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ISSUED BY AUTHORITY 





S. STlLLIViAN BERRY 
^9^ Tv^- 1^5"^ 



SEA FABLES 
EXPLAINED 




ILLUSTRATED 



BY 



HENRY LEE, f.l.s., f.g.s., f.z.s. 

SOMETIME NATURALIST OF THE BRIGHTON AQUARIl-M, AND 

AUTHOR OF 'THE OCTOPUS, OR THE DEVIL-FISH OF FICTION AND FACT ;' 

' SEA MONSTERS UNMASKED,' ETC. 



Lg N D ON 




VII^LIMI 




lNTERN:/l'TI01i^l4 IlSHERIES EXHIBITION 

ONE Shillimc 



OFFICIAL PUBLICATIONS. 

The following Handbooks upon subjects cognate to the 
International Fisheries Exhibition are already published, 
or in active preparation :— 

NOW READY. 

Demy ^o., in Illustrated Wrapper \s. each ; or bound in cloth 2s. each. 
THE FISHERY LAWS. By Frederick Pollock, Barrister-at- 
Law, M.A, (Oxon.), Hon. LL.D. Edin. ; Corpus Christi Professor of Juris- 
prudence in the University of Oxford. 

ZOOLOGY AND FOOD FISHES. By George B. Howes, 
Demonstrator of Biology, Normal School of Science, and Royal School of Mines, 
South Kensington. 

BRITISH MARINE AND FRESHWATER FISHES. 

(Illustrated.) By W. Saville Kent, F.L.S., F.Z.S., Author of Official Guide- 
books to the Brighton, Manchester, and Westminster Aquaria. 

APPARATUS FOR FISHING. By E. W. H. Holdsworth, 

F.L.S., F.Z.S., Special Commissioner for Juries, International Fisheries 
Exhibition; Author of "Deep Sea Fisheries and Fishing Boats," "British 
Industries — Sea Fisheries," &c, 

THE BRITISH FISH TRADE. By His Excellency Spencer 

Walpole, Lieut.-Govemor of the Isle of Man. 

THE UNAPPRECIATED FISHER FOLK. By James G. 

Bertram, Author of " The Harvest of the Sea." 
THE SALMON FISHERIES. {Illustrated.) By C. E. Fryer. 

Assistant Inspector of Salmon Fisheries, Home Office. 

SEA MONSTERS UNMASKED. {Illustrated) By Henry Lee, 

F T S 

THE ANGLING CLUBS AND PRESERVATION SO- 
CIETIES OF LONDON AND THE PROVINCES. ByJ. P. Wheeldon, 
late Angling Editor of " Bell's Life." 

INDIAN FISH AND FISHING. {Illustrated.) By Francis 
Day, F.L.S., Commissioner for India to International Fisheries Exhibition. 

A POPULAR HISTORY OF FISHERIES AND FISHER- 
MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, FROM THE EARLIEST TIMES. By 
W. M. Adams, B.A., formerly Fellow of New College, Oxford; Author of 
'Zenobia : a Tragedy,' and inventor of the Ccelometer. 

FISH CULTURE. {Illustrated.) By Francis Day, F.L.S., Com- 
missioner for India to International Fisheries Exhibition. 

SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. By Henry Lee, F.L.S. {Illustrated) 

IN THE PRESS. 

FISH AS DIET. By W. Stephen Mitchell, M.A. (Cantab.) 

ANGLING IN GREAT BRITAIN. By William Senior (» Red 

Spinner "). 

EDIBLE CRUSTACEA. By W. Saville Kent, F.L.S., F.Z.S., 

Author of Official Guidebooks to the Brighton, Manchester, and Westminster 
Aquaria. 

THE LITERATURE OF SEA AND RIVER FISHING. 

By John J. Manley, M.A. (Oxon.) 
FOLK LORE OF FISHES: their Place in Fable, Fairy 

Tale, Myth, and Poetry. By Phil Robinson. 
THE OUTCOME OF THE EXHIBITION. By A. J. R. 

Trkndell, of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law, Literary Superintendent for 
the Fisheries Exhibition. 

LONDON : 
WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, Limited, 

INTERNATIONAL FISHERIES EXHIBITION, & 13, CHARING CROSS- 



SMITHSONIAN 
INSTITUTION 

LIBRARIES 



Mi 



^A 



Bequest of 
S. STILLMAN BERRY 




A MERMAID. 
From a Picture by Otto Si?idiiig. 



hiterjiatioiial Fisheries Exhibitioi^ 

LONDON, 1883 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED 



BV 



HENRY LEE, F.L.S., F.G.S., RZ.s, 

SOMETIME NATURALIST OF THE BRIGHTON AQUARIUM 
AND 

AUTHOR OF *THE OCTOPUS, OR THE DEVIL-FISH OF FICTION AND FACT 
' SEA MONSTERS UNMASKED,' ETC. 



ILLUSTRATED 



LONDON 
WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, Limited 

INTERNATIONAL FISHERIES EXHIBITION 
AND 13 CHARING CROSS, S.W. 

1883 



110 

Moll 



LONDON: 
PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, Limited, 

STAMFORD STKEET AND CHARING CROSS. 






PREFACE. 



The little book ' Sea Monsters Unmasked,' recently 
issued as one of the Handbooks in connection with the 
Great International Fisheries Exhibition has met with so 
favourable a reception, that I have been honoured by the 
request to continue the subject, and to treat also of some 
of the Fables of the Sea, which once were universally 
believed, and even now are not utterly extinct. 

The topic is not here exhausted. Other sea fables and 
fallacies might be mentioned and explained ; but the 
amount of letter-press, and the number of illustrations that 
can be printed without loss for the small sum of one 
shilling — the price at which these Handbooks are uniformly 
published — is necessarily limited. I have, therefore, thought 
it better to endeavour to make each chapter as complete 
as possible than to crowd into the space allotted to me a 
greater variety of subjects less fully and carefully discussed. 

I have the pleasure of acknowledging the kind assist- 
ance I have again received in the matter of illustrations. 
I gratefully appreciate Mr. Murray's permission to use 
the woodcut of Hercules slaying the Hydra, taken from 
Smith's ' Classical Dictionary,' and those of the golden 
ornaments found by Dr. Schlicmann at Mycenai, and 



vi PREFACE. 

figured in tlie very interesting book in which his excava- 
tions there are described. I have also to thank the 
proprietors of the Illustrated London Neivs, the Leisnrc 
Hour, and Land and Water, for the use of illustrations 
especially mentioned in the text. 

HENRY LEE. 

Savage Club; 
Sept. /\th, 1883. 



CONTENTS. 



The Mermaid .... 
The Lernean Hydra . 

SCYLLA AND ChARYBDIS 

The "Spouting" of Whales 
The "Sailing" of the Nautilus 
Barnacle Geese— Goose Barnacles 



I 

48 
59 
62 
76 
98 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 



FIG. PAGE 

A Mermaid. From a picture by Otto Sinding . . Frontispiece 

1. Noah, His Wife and Three Sons, as Fish-tailed Deities. 

Fro7}i a gem in the Florentine Gallery. After Calmet . . z 

2. Hea, or Noah, the God of the Flood. Khorsahad . . 3 

3. Dagon. From a bas-relief. Nituroiid ..... 4 

4. Dagon : Half Man, Half Fish. From Lamy''s ' Apparatus 

Biblicus '.......... 5 

5. Dagon. From an agate signet. Ninrveh ...... 

6. Fish Avatar of Vishnu. After Calmet and Maurice . . 6 

7. Atergatis, The Goddess of the Syrians. From a Phccnician 

Coin. .......... 8 

8. Venus Rising from the Sea, Supported by Tritons. 

After Calmet ......... 9 

9. Venus Drawn in Her Chariot by Tritons. Froin hvo 

Corinthian Coins ........ 10 

10. Ditto. . . . . . . . . . . .11 

11. Seal, Drawn as a Fish. From the Catacombs at Ro77ie . . „ 

12. Mermaid and Fishes of Amboyna. After Valentyn . . 17 

13. A Japanese Artificial Mermaid 27 

14. An Artificial Mermaid. Probably Japanese .... 28 

15. Portrait of a Mermaid said to have been Captured in 

Japan . . . . . . . . , .29 

16. The Dugong. From Sir y. Emerson Tennenfs 'Ceylon^ . . 43 

17. The Manatee -45 

18. Figure of a Calamary, From the Temple of Bayr-el- 

Bahree .......... 50 

19. Figure of an Octopus on a Gold Ornament found by 

Dr. Schliemann at Mycenae 51 

20. Ditto. ........... 52 

21. Ditto 53 

22. Ditto. ............ 

23. Hercules Slaying the Lernean Hydra .... 57 

b 



X LIST OF ILLUSTRATIOXS. 

24. The Physeter Inundatln'g a Ship. After Olaus Magnus 

25. A Whale PoriaxG Water into a Ship from its Blow 

HOLE. After Olaus Magnus 

26. Sperm Whales " Spouting ". 

27. The Paper Nautilus {Argonauta argd) Sailing 

28. Ditto. Retracted Within its Shell . 

29. Ditto. Crawling 

30. Ditto. Swimming 

31. Shell of the Paper Nautilus {Argonauta argd) 

32. Shell of the Pearly Nautilus {Nautilus pompUius) 

33. The Pearly Nautilus {Nautilus pompilius) and Section of 

its Shell 

34. The Goose-Tree. From Gerard's ^HerbalP 

35. Ditto, Facsimile from Aldroz'andus . 

36. De^'ELOPMent of Barnacles into Geese. Facsimile from 

Aldrovandus ........ 

37. Section of a Sessile Barn.\cle. Balanus tintinnabulum 

38. Pedunculated Barnacle. Lcpas anatifera . 

39. A Ship's Figure-head Partly Covered with Barnacles 

40. Whale Barnacle. Coronula diadema .... 



64 

64 
65 
76 
Si 
86 

S? 

88 
S9 

90 
104 
no 

III 
"3 
115 
no 
117 



41. A Young B.arnacle. Lai-^a of Chthamulus stellatus . . 11 S 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



THE MERMAID. 

Next to the pleasure which the earnest zoologist derives 
from study of the habits and structure of living animals, 
and his intelligent appreciation of their perfect adaptation 
to their modes of life, and the circumstances in which they 
are placed, is the interest he feels in eliminating fiction 
from truth, whilst comparing the fancies of the past with the 
facts of the present. As his knowledge increases, he learns 
that the descriptions by ancient writers of so-called " fabu- 
lous creatures " are rather distorted portraits than invented 
falsehoods, and that there is hardly one of the monsters of old 
which has not its prototype in Nature at the present day. 
The idea of the Lernean Hydra, whose heads grew again 
when cut off by Hercules, originated, as I have shown in 
another chapter, in a knowledge of the octopus ; and in 
the form and movements of other animals with which we 
are now familiar we may, in like manner, recognise the 
similitude and archetype of the mermaid. 

But we must search deeply into the history of mankind 
to discover the real source of a belief that has prevailed in 
almost all ages, and in all parts of the world, in the 
existence of a race of beings uniting the form of man with 
that of the fish. A rude resemblance between these 

B 



2 SEA FABLES EXPLAIXED. 

creatures of imagination and tradition and certain aquatic 
animals is not sufficient to account for that belief It 
probably had its origin in ancient m}-thologies, and in the 
sculptures and pictures connected with them, which were 
designed to represent certain attributes of the deities of 
various nations. In the course of time the meaning of 
these was lost ; and subsequent generations regarded as 




FIG. I. — NOAH, HIS WIFE, AND THREE SONS, AS FISH-TAILED DEITIES, 

From a Gem in the Florentine Gallery. After Calmet. 

the portraits of existing beings effigies which were at first 
intended to be merely emblematic and symbolical. 

Early idolatry' consisted, first, in separating the idea of 
the One Divinity into that of his various attributes, and of 
inventing symbols and making images of each separately ; 
secondly, in the worship of the sun, moon, stars, and 
planets, as living existences ; thirdly, in the deification of 
ancestors and early kings ; and these three forms were 
often minsfled together in strange and tangled confusion. 



THE MERMAID. 3 

Amongst the famous personages with whose history men 
were made acquainted by oral tradition was Xoah. He 
was known as the second father of the human race, and 
the preserver and teacher of the arts and sciences as they 
existed before the Great Deluge, of which so many separate 
traditions exist among the various races of mankind. Con- 
sequently, he was an object of worship in many countries 
and under many names ; and his wife and sons, as his 
assistants in the diffusion of knowledge, were sometimes 
associated with him. 

According to Berosus, of Babylon, — the Chaldean priest 
and astronomer, who extracted from the sacred books of 
" that great city " much interesting ancient lore, which he in- 
troduced into his ' History of Syria,' written, about B.C. 260, 
for the use of the Greeks, — at a time when men were sunk 
in barbarism, there came up from the Erythrean Sea (the 
Persian Gulf), and landed on the Babylonian shore, a creature 
named Cannes, which had the body and head of a fish. But 
above the fish's head was the head of a man, and below the 
tail of the fish were human feet. It had also human arms, a 
human voice, and human language. This strange monster 
sojourned among the rude people during 
the day, taking no food, but retiring to 
the sea at night ; and it continued for 
some time thus to visit them, teaching 
them the arts of civilized life, and in- 
structing them in science and religion.* 

In this tale we have a distorted ac- 

FIG. 2. — HEA, OR 

count of the life and occupation of Noah n-o.\h, the god 
after his escape from the deluge which °^ '^"^ flood. 

Khorsabad, 

destroyed his home and drowned his 
neighbours. Cannes was one of the names under which 
* Berosus, lib. i. p. 4S. 

B 2 




SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 







he was worshipped in Chaldea, at Erech (" the place of the 
ark "), as the sacred and intelligent fish-god, the teacher 
of mankind, the god of science and knowledge. There he 
was also called Oes, Hoa, Ea, Ana, Anu, Ann, and Oan. 
Noah was worshipped, also, in Syria and ]\Iesopotamia, 

and in Egj'pt, at "populous 
No," * or Thebes — so named 
from " Theba," " the ark." 

The history of the coffin of 
Osiris is another version of 
Noah's ark, and the period 
during which that Egyptian 
divinity is said to have been 
shut up in it, after it was set 
afloat upon the waters, was 
precisely the same as that 
during which Noah remained 
in the ark. 

Dagon, also — sometimes 
called Odacon — the great fish- 
god of the Philistines and 
Babylonians, was another 
phase of Cannes. " Dag," in 
Hebrew, signifies "a male 
fish," and " Aun " and " Oan " 
were two of the names of 
Noah. " Dag-aun " or " Dag- 
oan " therefore means " the fish Noah." He was portrayed 
in two ways. The more ancient image of him was that 
of a man issuing from a fish, as described of Oannes by 
Berosus ; but in later times it was varied to that of a man 
whose upper half was human, and the lower parts those of 
* Nahum iii. 8, 




FIG, 3. — DAGOX. From a bos 
reluf. Kiniroud. 



THE MERMAID. 




a fish. The image of Dagon which fell upon its face to 
the ground before "the ark of the God of Israel," was 
probably of this latter form, for we read * that in its fall, 
"the head of Dagon and 
both the palms of his hands 
were cut off upon the thres- 
hold : only the stump (in the 
margin, '^ the fishy part'') of 
Dagon was left to him. This 
was evidently Milton's con- 
ception of him : 

" Dagon his name ; sea-monster, 
upward man 
And downward fish." f 

In some of the Nineveh 
sculptures of the fish-god, 

the head of 

the fish forms 

a kind of 

mitre on the 

head of the 

man, whilst 

the body of 

the fish ap- 
pears as a 

cloak or cape 

over his 

shoulders and 

back. The fish varies in length ; in some cases the tail 

almost touches the ground ; in others it reaches but little 

below the man's waist. 

* I Samuel v. 4. 

t ' Paradise Lost,' Book i. 1. 462. 




FIG. 5. — DAGOX. 
From an Agate 
Si'^net. Alneveh. 




FIG. 4. — DAGON. Aflcr Calmd. 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



In one of his " ava- 
tars," or incarnations, 
the god Vishnu "the 
Preserver," is repre- 
sented as issuing from 
the mouth of a fish. 
He is celebrated as 
having miraculously 
preserved one righteous 
family, and, also, the 
Vedas, the sacred re- 
cords, when the world 
was drowned. Not only 
is this legend of the 
Indian god wrought up 
with the history of 
Noah, but Vishnu and 
Noah bear the same 
name — Vishnu being 
the Sanscrit form of 
"Ish-nuh," "the man 
Noah." The word 
" avatar " also means 
" out of the boat." In 
fact the whole myth- 
i ology of Greece and 
i^ Rome, as well as of 
Asia, is full of the his- 
tory and deeds of Noah, 
which it is impossible 
to misunderstand. In all the representations of a deity 
having a combined human and piscine form, the original idea 
was that of a person coming out of a fish — not being part of 




FIG. 6. — FISH AVATAR OF VISHNU. 
After Calmet and Maurice. 



THE MERMAID. 7 

one, but issuing from it, as Xoah issued from the ark. In 
all of them the fish denoted " pre3er\'ation, " fecundity," 
" plenty," and " diffusion of knowledge."* As the image 
was not the effigy of a divine personage, but symbolized 
certain attributes of Divinity, its sex was comparatively 
unimportant, although it is possible that, combined with 
the fecundity of the fish, the idea of Noah's wife, as the 
second mother of all subsequent generations, according to 
the widely-spread and accepted traditions of the deluge, 
may have influenced the impersonation. 

Atergatis, the far-famed goddess of the Syrians, was also 
a fish-divinity. Her image, like that of Dagon, had at 
first a fish's body with human extremities protruding 
from it ; but in the course of centuries it was gradually 
altered to that of a being the upper portion of whose 
body was that of a woman and the lower half that of 
a fish. Gatis was a powerful queen of Sidon, and mother 
of Semiramis. She received the title of " Ater," or " Ader," 
" the Great," for the benefits she conferred on her people ; 
one of these benefits being a strict conservation of their 
fisheries, both from their own imprudent use, and from foreign 
interference. She issued an edict that no fish should be 
eaten without her consent, and that no one should take fish 
in the neighbouring sea without a licence from herself. It 
is not improbable that she and her celebrated daughter, who 

* Some writers are of the opinion that the legend of Oannes 
contains an allusion to the rising and setting of the sun, and that his 
semi-piscine form was the expression of the idea that half his time was 
spent above ground, and half below the waves. The same commen- 
tators also regard all the '• civilizing " gods and goddesses as, respec- 
tively, solar and lunar deities. The attributes symbolized in the 
worship of Noah and the sun are so nearly alike that the two interpre- 
tations are not incompatible. 



8 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



is said by Ovid and others to have been the builder of the 
walls of Babylon, were worshipped together ; for that 
Atergatis was the same as the fish-goddess Ashteroth, or 
Ashtoreth, " the builder of the encompassing wall," we have, 
amongst other proofs, a remarkable one in Biblical history. 
In the first book of Maccabees v. 43, 44, we read that " all 
the heathen being discomfited before him (Judas Maccabeus) 
cast away their weapons, and fled unto the temple that was 
at Carnaim. But they took the city, and burned the temple 
with all that were therein. Thus was Carnaim subdued, 
neither could they stand any longer before Judas." In the 
second book of Maccabees xii. 26, we are told that " Macca- 
beus marched forth to Camion, and to the temple of Atar- 
gatis, and there he slew five and twenty thousand persons." 
In Genesis xiv. 5, this city and temple are referred to as 
"Ashteroth Kamaiin." 

Fig. 7 is a representation of Ater- 
gatis on a medal coined at Marseilles. 
It shows that when the Phoenician 
colony from Syria, by whom that city 
was founded, settled there, they 
brought with them the worship of 
the gods of their country. 

Atergatis was worshipped by the 

Greeks as Derceto and Astarte. 

" In Phoenicia I saw the image of Der- 

For she had the half of 




FIG. 7. — ATERGATIS. 

From a Phcenician coin. 



Lucian writes' 

ceto, a strange sight, truly ! 

a woman, and from the thighs downwards a fish's tail." 

Diodorus Siculus describes (lib. ii.) the same deity, as 

represented at Ascalon, as " having the face of a woman, 



Opera Omnia,' torn. ii. p. 884, edit. Bened. de Dea Syr. 



THE MERMAID. 9 

but all the rest of the body a fish's." And this very same 
image at Ascalon, which Diodorus calls Derceto, or 
Atergatis, is denominated by Herodotus* "the celestial 
Aphrodite," who was identical with the Cyprian and Roman 
Venus. Of all the sacred buildings erected to the goddess, 
this temple was by far the most ancient ; and the Cyprians 




FIG. 8. — VENUS RISING FROM THE SEA, SUPPORTED BY TRITONS. 
After Calvict. 

themselves acknowledged that their temple was built after 
the model of it by certain Phoenicians who came from 
that part of Syria, 

Thus the worship of Noah, as the second father of man- 
kind, the repopulator of the earth, passed through various 

* Lib. i. cap. cv. 



10 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

phases and transformations till it merged in that of Venus, 
who rose from the sea, and was regarded as the representa- 
tive of the reproductive power of Nature — the goddess whom 
Lucretius thus addressed : 

" Blest Venus ! Thou the sea and fruitful earth 
Peoplest amain ; to thee whatever lives 
Its being owes, and that it sees' the sun : " 

and to whom refers the passage in the Orphic hymn : 

" From thee are all things — all things thou producest 
Which are in heaven, or in the fertile earth, 
Or in the sea, or in the great abyss." 

Under this latter phase — the impersonation of Venus — 
the fish portion of the body was discarded, and the cast-off 
form was allotted in popular credence to the Tritons — minor 
deities, who acknowledged the supremacy of the goddess, 
and were ready to render her homage and service by bearing 
her in their arms, drawing her chariot, etc., but who still 
possessed considerable power as sea-gods, and could calm 
the waves and rule the storm, at pleasure. 



FIG. 9. 





VENUS DRAWN IN HER CHARIOT BY TRITONS. From two CoTiuthian coins. 



Figs. 9 and 10 are from two Corinthian medals, each 
shewing Venus in a car or chariot drawn by Tritons, one 
male, the other female. On the obverse of Fig. 9, is the 



THE MERMAID. 



II 



head of Nero, and on that of Fig. lo, the head of his 
grandmother Agrippina.* 

From the very earliest period of history, then, the 
conjoined human and fish form was known to every 
generation of men. It was presented to their sight in 
childhood by sculptures and pictures, and was a conspicuous 
object in their religious worship. By the lapse of time its 
original import was lost and debased ; and, from being 

* It is worthy of note that the fish was also adopted as an emblem 
by the early Christians, and was frequently sculptured on their tombs 
as a private mark or sign of the faith in which the person there 
interred had died. It alluded to the letters which composed the 
Greek word Ix^v? ("a fish") forming an anagram, the initials 
of words which conveyed the following sentiment : Ijjo-ouj, Jesus ; 
Xpia-TOi, Christ ; Qeov, of God ; Yios, Son ; Swrr/p, Saviour. But it 
doubtless bore, also, the older meaning of " preservation " and " re- 
production," of which the fish was the symbol, and betokened a belief 
in a future resurrection, as Noah was preserved to dwell in, and 
populate, a new world. In 'Sea Monsters Unmasked,' page 55, 
I gave a figure, copied by permission from the Illustrated London 
News, of a rough sculpture in the Roman catacombs, of Jonah being 
disgorged by a sea-monster. Near to it was found, on another Chris- 
tian tomb, one of these designs of the " fish ; " and it is not a little 
curious that, whereas the animal depicted as casting forth Jonah is 
not a whale, but a sea-serpent, or dragon, the ichtheiis in this instance 
is apparently not a fish, but a seal. 




FIG. II. — CHRISTIAN SYMBOL. From the Catacombs at Rome. 
The article referred to appeared in the Illustrated London News 
of February 3rd, 1872, and the woodcut (fig. 11), an electrotype of 
which was most kindly presented to me by the proprietors of that 
paper, was one of the sketches that accompanied it. 



12 SEA FABLES EXPLAIAED. 

an emblem and symbol, it came to be accepted as the 
corporeal shape and structure of actually-existent sea- 
deities, who might present themselves to the view of the 
mariner, in visible and tangible form, at any moment. 
Thus were men trained and prepared to believe in mermen 
and mermaids, to expect to meet with them at sea, and to 
recognise as one of them any animal the appearance and 
movements of which could possibly be brought into con- 
formity with their pre-conceived ideas. 

Accordingly, and very naturally, we find that from north 
to south this belief has been entertained. Megasthenes, 
who was a contemporary of Aristotle, but his junior, and 
whose geographical work was probably written at about the 
period of the great philosopher's death, reported that the sea 
which surrounded Taprobana, the ancient Ceylon, was in- 
habited by creatures having the appearance of women. 
yElian stated that there were "whales," or "great fishes," 
having the form of satyrs. The early Portuguese settlers in 
India asserted that true mermen were found in the Eastern 
seas, and old Norse legends tell of submarine beings of con- 
joined human and piscine form, who dwell in a wide territory 
far below the region of the fishes, over which the sea, like 
the cloudy canopy of our sky, loftily rolls, and some of whom 
have, from time to time, landed on Scandinavian shores, 
exchanged their fishy extremities for human limbs, and 
acquired amphibious habits. Not only have poets sung of 
the wondrous and seductive beauty of the maidens of these 
aquatic tribes, but many a Jack tar has come home from 
sea prepared to affirm on oath that he has seen a mermaid. 
To the best of his belief he has told the truth. He has 
seen some living being which looked wonderfully human, 
and his imagination, aided by an inherited superstition, has 
supplied the rest. 



THE MERMAID. 13 

Before endeavouring to identify the object of his delusion, 
it may be well to mention a few instances of the supposed 
appearance of mermen and mermaidens in various localities. 

Pliny writes *: " When Tiberius was emperor, an em- 
bassy was sent to him from Olysippo (Lisbon) expressly to 
inform him that a Triton, which was recognised as such by 
its form, had shown itself in a certain cave, and had been 
heard to produce loud sounds on a conch-shell. The 
Nereid, also, is not imaginary- : its body is rough and 
covered with scales, but it has the appearance of a human 
being. For one was seen upon the same coast ; and when 
it was dying those dwelling near at hand heard it moaning 
sadly for a long time. And the Governor of Gaul wrote to 
the divine Augustus that several Nereids had been found 
dead upon the shore. I have many informants — illustrious 
persons in high positions — who have assured me that they 
saw in the Sea of Cadiz a merman whose whole body was 
exactly like that of a man, that these mermen mount on 
board ships by night, and weigh down that end of' the 
vessel on which the\- rest, and that if they are allowed to 
remain there long they will sink the ship." 

^lian in one of his short, jerky, disconnected chapters,! 
which rarely exceed a page in length, and some of which 
only contain two lines, writes : " It is reported that the 
great sea which surrounds the island of Taprobana (Ceylon) 
contains an immense multitude of fishes and whales, and 
some of them have the heads of lions, panthers, rams, and 
other animals ; and (which is more wonderful still) some of 
the cetaceans have the form of satyrs. There arc others 
which have the face of a woman, but prickles instead of 
hair. In addition to these, it is said there arc other 

* Naiuralis Hisioria, Lib. ix. cap. v. 

t De Naiurd Animaliumy Lib. svi. cap. xviii. 



14 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

creatures of so strange and monstrous a kind that it would 
be impossible exactly to explain their appearance without 
the aid of a skilfully drawn picture : these have elongated 
and coiled tails, and, for feet, have claws * or fins. And I 
hear that in the same sea there are great amphibious 
beasts which are gregarious, and live on grain, and by night 
feed on the corn crops and grass, and are also very fond of 
the ripe fruit of the palms. To obtain these they encircle 
in their embrace the trees which are young and flexible, 
and, shaking them violently, enjoy the fruit which they thus 
cause to fall. When morning dawns they return to the 
sea, and plunge beneath the waves." 

^lian seems to have derived this information from 
Megasthenes, already referred to ; but in another chapter,! 
he writes with greater certainty concerning these semi-human 
whales, and claims divine authority for his belief in the exist- 
ence of tritons. " Although," he says, " we have no rational 
explanation nor absolute proof of that which fishermen are 
said to be able to affirm concerning the form of the tritons, 
we have the sworn testimony of many persons that there are 
in the sea cetaceans which from the head down to the middle 
of the body resemble the human species. Demostratus, 
in his works on fishing, says that an aged triton was seen 
near the town of Tanagra, in Boeotia, which was like the 
drawings and pictures of tritons, but its features were so 
obscured by age, and it disappeared so quickly, that its true 
character was not easily perceptible. But on the spot 
where it had rested on the shore were found some rough 
and very hard scales which had become detached from it. 
A certain senator — one of those selected by lot to carry on 

* '■'■ Forfices^'' literally "shears," or "nippers," like the claws of a 
lobster. 

t Lib. xiii. cap. xxi. 



THE MERMAID. 15 

the administration of Achaia and the duties of the annual 
magistracy " (the mayor, in fact,) " being anxious to inves- 
tigate the nature of this triton, put a portion of its skin 
on the fire. It gave out a most horrible odour ; and those 
standing by were unable to decide whether it belonged 
t;o a terrestrial or marine animal. But the magistrate's 
curiosity had an evil ending, for very soon afterwards, 
whilst crossing a narrow creek in a boat, he fell overboard 
and was drowned ; and the Tanagreans all regarded this as 
a judgment upon him for his crime of impiety towards the 
triton — an interpretation which was confirmed when his 
decomposing body was cast ashore, for it emitted exactly 
the same odour as had the burned skin of the triton. The 
Tanagreans and Demostratus explain whence the triton 
had strayed, and how it was stranded in this place. I 
believe," continues ^Elian, " that tritons exist, and I reveren- 
tially produce as my witness a most veracious god — namely, 
Apollo Didymaeus, whom no man in his senses would 
presume to regard as unworthy of credit. He sings thus 
of the triton, which he calls the sheep of the sea : 

'• Diim -uocale fnaris vionstnan natat crquorc iriion, 
Nepiuni pccHS, i7t fanes forte mcidit extra 
Demissos navim'' j'''' 

which I venture to translate as follows : 

A triton, vocal monster of the deep, 

One of a flock of Neptune's scaly sheep, 

Was caught, whilst swimming o'er the watery plain, 

By lines which fishers from their boat had lain. 

" Therefore," ^lian concludes, "if he, the omniscient god, 
pronounces that there are tritons, it does not behove us to 
doubt their existence." 

Sir J. Emerson Tennent, in his 'Natural History of 
Ceylon,' quoting from the Histoire de la Covipagnie de 



1 6 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

Jesus, mentions that the annalist of the exploits of the 
Jesuits in India gravely records that seven of these 
monsters, male and female, were captured at Manaar, in 
1560, and carried to Goa, where they were dissected by 
Demas Bosquez, physician to the Viceroy, "and their 
internal structure found to be in all respects conformable to 
the human." He also quotes Valentyn, one of the Dutch 
colonial chaplains, who, in his account of the Natural History 
of Amboyna,* embodied in his great work on the Nether- 
lands' possessions in India, published in I727,t devoted 
the first section of his chapter on the fishes of that island 
to a minute description of the " Zee-Menschen," " Zee- 
Wyven," and mermaids, the existence of which he warmly 
insists on as being beyond cavil. He relates that in 1663, 
when a lieutenant in the Dutch service was leading a party 
of soldiers along the sea-shore in Amboyna, he and all his 
company saw the mermen swimming at a short distance 
from the beach. They had long and flowing hair of a 
colour between grey and green. Six weeks afterwards the 
creatures were again seen by him and more than fifty 
witnesses, at the same place, by clear daylight. " If any 
narrative in the world," adds Valentyn, " deserves credit it 
is this ; since not only one, but two mermen together were 
seen by so many eye-witnesses. Should the stubborn 
world, however, hesitate to believe it, it matters nothing, 
as there are people who would even deny that such cities 
as Rome, Constantinople, or Cairo, exist, merely because 
they themselves have not happened to see them. But 
what are such incredulous persons," he continues, " to make 

* One of the Dutch spice-islands in the Banda Sea, between Celebes 
and Papua. 

t Beschrijving van Oud en Nicuw Oost-Indien, etc., 5 vols, folio, 
Dordrecht and Amsterdam, 1727, vol. iii. p. 330. 



THE MERMAID. 



17 



of the circumstance recorded by Albrecht Herport * in his 
account of India, that a merman was seen in the water 
near the church of Taquan on the morning of the 29th of 
April, 1 66 1, and a mermaid at the same spot the same 
afternoon ? Or what do they say to the fact that in 17 14 
a mermaid was not only seen but captured near the island 
of Booro, five feet, Rhineland measure, in height ; which 
lived four days and seven hours, but, refusing all food, 
died without leaving any intelligible account of herself?" 




FIG. 12. — MERMAID AND FISHES OF AMBOYN'A. After Valciltyit. 

Valentyn, in support of his own faith in the mermaid, cites 
many other instances in which both " sea-men and sea- 
women " were seen and taken at Amboyna ; especially one 
by a district visitor of the church, who presented it to the 
Governor Vanderstel. Of this "well-authenticated" specimen 
he gives an elaborate portrait amongst the fishes of the island.f 

* Itinerarium Indicum, Berne, 1669. 

t With the permission and assistance of Messrs. Longman, the 
accompanying wood-cut of this picture, and that of the Dugong, on page 
43, are copied from Sir J. Emerson Tennent's book pubhshed in 1S61. 

C 



1 8 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

with a minute description of each for the satisfaction of 
men of science. 

The fame of this creature having reached Europe, the 
British minister in Holland wrote to Valentyn on the 28th 
of December, 17 16, whilst the Emperor Peter the Great, of 
Russia, was his guest at Amsterdam, to communicate the 
desire of the Czar that the mermaid should be brought 
home from Amboyna for his inspection. To complete his 
proofs of the existence of mermen and merwomen, Valentyn 
points triumphantly to the historical fact that in Holland, 
in the year 1404, a mermaid was driven, during a tempest, 
through a breach in the dyke of Edam, and was taken alive 
in the lake of Purmer. Thence she was carried to Haarlem, 
where the Dutch women taught her to spin, and where 
several years after, she died in the Roman Catholic faith ; — 
" but this," says the pious Calvinistic chaplain, " in no way 
militates against the truth of her story." The worthy 
minister citing the authority of various writers as proof that 
mermaids had in all ages been known in Gaul, Naples, 
Epirus, and the Morea, comes to the conclusion that as 
there are " sea-cows," " sea-horses," " sea-dogs," as well as 
"sea-trees," and "sea-flowers," which he himself had seen, 
there are no reasonable grounds for doubt that there may 
also be "sea-maidens" and "sea-men." 

In an early account of Newfoundland,* Wliitbourne 
describes a " maremaid or mareman," which he had seen 
"within the length of a pike," and which "came swimming 
swiftly towards him, looking cheerfully on his face, as it had 
been a woman. By the face, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, ears, 
neck and forehead, it appeared to be so beautiful, and in 
those parts so well proportioned, having round about the 
head many blue streaks resembling hair, but certainly it 
* Whitbourne's ' Discourse of Newfoundland.' 



THE MERMAID. 19 

was no hair. The shoulders and back down to the middle 
were square, white, and smooth as the back of a man, and 
from the middle to the end it tapered like a broad-hooked 
arrow." The animal put both its paws on the side of the 
boat wherein its observer sat, and strove much to get in, 
but was repelled by a blow. 

In 1676, a description was given by an English surgeon 
named Glover, of an animal of this kind. The author did 
not designate it by any name, but the incident has the 
honour of being recorded in the Philosophical Transactions* 
About three leagues from the mouth of the river Rappahan- 
nock, in America, while alone in a vessel, he observed, at 
the distance of about half a stone-throw, he says, " a most 
prodigious creature, much resembling a man, only somewhat 
larger, standing right up in the water, with his head, neck, 
shoulders, breast and waist, to the cubits of his arms, above 
water, and his skin was tawny, much like that of an Indian ; 
the figure of his head was pyramidal and sleek, without 
hair ; his eyes large and black, and so were his eyebrows ; 
his mouth very wide, with a broad black streak on the 
upper lip, which turned upwards at each end like 
mustachios. His countenance was grim and terrible. His 
neck, shoulders, arms, breast and waist, were like unto the 
neck, arms, shoulders, breast and waist of a man. His 
hands, if he had any, were under water. He seemed to 
stand with his eyes fixed on me for some time, and after- 
wards dived down, and, a little after, rose at somewhat 
a greater distance, and turned his head towards me again, 
and then immediately fell a little under water, that I could 
discern him throw out his arms and gather them in as a 
man does when he swims. At last, he shot with his head 
downwards, by which means he cast his tail above the 

* Glover's ' Account of Virginia,' ap. Phil. Trans, vol. xi. p. 625, 

C 2 



20 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

water, which exactly resembled the tail of a fish, with a 
broad fane at the end of it." 

Thormodus Torfaeus * maintains that mermaids are found 
on the south coast of Iceland, and, according to 01afsen,t 
two have been taken in the surrounding seas, the first in the 
earlier part of the history of that island, and the second in 
1733. The latter was found in the stomach of a shark. Its 
lower parts were consumed, but the upper were entire. 
They were as large as those of a boy eight or nine years 
old. Both the cutting teeth and grinders were long and 
shaped like pins, and the fingers were connected by a large 
web. Olafsen was inclined to believe that these were 
human remains, but the islanders all firmly maintained 
that they were part of " a marmennill," by which name the 
mermaid is known among them. 

Of course the worthy bishop of Bergen, Pontoppidan, 
has something to tell us about mermaids in his part of 
the world. " Amongst the sea monsters," he says, % " which 
are in the North Sea, and are often seen, I shall give the 
first place to the Hav-manden, or merman, whose mate 
is called Hav-fruen, or mermaid. The existence of this 
creature is questioned by many, nor is it at all to be 
wondered at, because most of the accounts we have had of 
it are mixed with mere fables, and may be looked upon as 
idle tales." As such he regards the story told by Jonas 
Ramus in his ' History of Norway,' of a mermaid taken by 
fishermen at Hordeland, near Bergen, and which is said to 
have sung an unmusical song to King Hiorlief. In the 
same category he places an account given by Besenius in 
his life of Frederic II. (1577), of a mermaid that called 

* Historia reriim Norvegicarum. 

\ Voyage en Islande, torn. iii. p. 223. 

X ' Natural Historj' of Norway,' vol. ii. p. 190. 



THE MERMAID. 21 

herself Isbrandt, and held several conversations with a 
peasant at Samsoe, in which she foretold the birth of 
King Christian IV., " and made the peasant preach repen- 
tance to the courtiers, who were very much given to 
drunkenness." Equally " idle " with the above stories is, 
in his opinion, another, extracted from an old manuscript 
still to be seen in the University Librar}^ at Copenhagen, 
and quoted by Andrew Bussaeus (1619), of a merman caught 
by the two senators, Ulf Rosensparre and Christian Holch, 
whilst on their voyage home to Denmark from Norway. 
This sea-man frightened the two worshipful gentlemen so 
terribly that they were glad to let him go again ; for 
as he lay upon the deck he spoke Danish to them, and 
threatened that if they did not give him his liberty " the ship 
should be cast away, and every soul of the crew should 
perish." 

"When such fictions as these," says Pontoppidan, "are 
mixed with the history of the merman, and when that crea- 
ture is represented as a prophet and an orator ; when they 
give the mermaid a melodious voice, and tell us that she is 
a fine singer, we need not wonder that so few people of sense 
will give credit to such absurdities, or that they even doubt 
the existence of such a creature." The good prelate, how- 
ever, goes on to say that '' whilst we have no ground to believe 
all these fables, yet, as to the existence of the creature we 
may safely give our assent to it," and, " if this be called in 
question, it must proceed entirely from the fabulous stories 
usually mixed with the truth." Like Valentyn, he argues 
that as there are " sea-horses," " sea-cows," " sea-wolves," 
"sea-dogs," "sea-hogs," etc., it is probable from analogy, 
that " we should find in the ocean a fish or creature which 
resembles the human species more than any other." As 
for the objection "founded on self-love and respect to our 



22 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

own species which is honoured with the image of God, who 
made man lord of all creatures, and that, consequently, we 
may suppose he is entitled to a noble and heavenly form 
which other creatures must not partake of," he thinks " its 
force vanishes when we consider the form of apes, and 
especially of another African creature called ' Ouoyas 
Morrov ' described by Odoard Dapper " in his work on 
Africa, and which appears to have been a chimpanzee. 
Pontoppidan regarded it as being the Satyr of the ancients. 
He therefore claims that " if we will not allow our 
Norwegian Hastromber the honourable name of merman, 
we may very well call it the ' Sea-ape,' or the ' Sea- 
Quoyas-Morrov ; ' especially as the author already quoted 
says that, " in the Sea of Angola mermaids are frequently 
caught which resemble the human species. They are taken 
in nets, and killed by the negroes, and are heard to shriek 
and cry like women." 

The Bishop adds that in the diocese of Bergen, as well 
as in the manor of Nordland, there were hundreds of 
persons who affirmed with the strongest assurances that 
they had seen this kind of creature ; sometimes at a distance 
and at other times quite close to their boats, standing 
upright, and formed like a human creature down to the 
middle — the rest they could not see — but of those who had 
seen them out of water and handled them he had not been 
able to find more than one person of credit who could vouch 
it for truth. This informant, " the Reverend Mr. Peter 
Angel, minister of Vand-Elvens Gield, on Suderoe," 
assured his bishop, when he was on a visitation journey, 
that "in the year 17 19, he (being then about twenty years 
old) saw what is called a merman lying dead on a point of 
land near the sea, which had been cast ashore by the waves 
along with several sea-calves (seals), and other dead fish. 



THE MERMAID. 23 

The length of this creature was much greater than what 
has been mentioned of any before, namely, above three 
fathoms. It was of a dark grey colour all over : in the 
lower part it was like a fish, and had a tail like that of a 
porpoise. The face resembled that of a man, with a mouth, 
forehead, eyes, etc. The nose was flat, and, as it were, 
pressed down to the face, in which the nostrils were 
very visible. The breast was not far from the head ; the 
arms seemed to hang to the side, to which they were 
joined by a thin skin, or membrane. The hands were, to 
all appearance, like the paws of a sea-calf. The back of this 
creature was very fat, and a great part of it was cut off, 
which, with the liver, yielded a large quantity of train-oil." 
The author then quotes a description by Luke Debes * of 
a mermaid seen in 1670 at Faroe, westward of Oualboe 
Eide, by many of the inhabitants, as also by others from 
different parts of Suderoe. She was close to the shore, and 
stood there for two hours and a half, and was up to her 
waist in water. She had long hairs on her head, which 
hung down to the surface of the water all round about her, 
and she held a fish in her right hand. 

Pontoppidan mentions other instances of similar appear- 
ances, and says that the latest he had heard of was of a 
merman seen in Denmark on the 20th of September, 1723, 
by three ferrymen who, at some distance from the land, 
were towing a ship just arrived from the Baltic. Having 
caught sight of something which looked like a dead body 
floating on the water, they rowed towards it, and there, 
resting on their oars, allowed it to drift close to them. It 
sank, but immediately came to the surface again, and then 
they saw that it had the appearance of an old man, strong- 

* /t-r^i^Tv^j'mz/cr, or Description of the Feroc Islands. Svo. Copen- 
hagen, 1673. 



2+ SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

limbed, and with broad shoulders, but his arms they could 
not see. His head was small in proportion to his body, 
and had short, curled, black hair, which did not reach below 
his ears ; his eyes lay deep in his head, and he had a 
meagre and pinched face, with a black, coarse beard, that 
looked as if it had been cut. His skin was coarse, and 
very full of hair. He stood in the same place for half a 
quarter of an hour, and was seen above the water down to 
his breast : at last the men grew apprehensive of some 
danger, and began to retire ; upon which the monster 
blew up his cheeks, and made a kind of roaring noise, and 
then dived under water, so that they did not see him any 
more. One of them, Peter Gunnersen, related (what the 
others did not observe) that this merman was, about the 
body and downwards, quite pointed, like a fish. This same 
Peter Gunnersen likewise deposed that " about twenty years 
before, as he was in a boat near Kulleor, the place where 
he was born, he saw a mermaid with long hair and large 
breasts." He and his two companions were, by command 
of the king, examined by the burgomaster of Elsineur, 
Andrew Bussseus, before the privy-councillor, Fridrich von 
Gram, and their testimony to the above effect was given 
on their respective oaths. 

Brave old Henry Hudson, the sturdy and renowned 
navigator, who thrice, in three successive years, gave battle 
to the northern ice, and was each time defeated in his 
endeavour to discover a north-west or north-east passage 
to China, though he stamped his name on the title-page 
of a mighty nation's history, records the following inci- 
dent : "This evening (June 15th) one of our company, 
looking overboard, saw a mermaid, and, calling up some of 
the company to see her, one more of the crew came up, and 
by that time she was come close to the ship's side, looking 



THE MERMAID. 25 

earnestly on the men. A little after a sea came and over- 
turned her. From the navel upward, her back and breasts 
were like a woman's, as they say that saw her ; her body as 
big as one of us, her skin very white, and long hair hanging 
down behind, of colour black. In her going down they saw 
her tail, which was like the tail of a porpoise and speckled 
like a mackarel's. Their names that saw her were Thomas 
Hilles and Robert Rayner." 

Steller, who was a zoologist of some repute, reports 
having seen in Behrings Straits a strange animal, which he 
calls a "sea-ape," and in which one might almost recog- 
nise Pontoppidan's " Sea-Quoyas-Morrov." It was about 
five feet long, had sharp and erect ears and large eyes, 
and on its lips a kind of beard. Its body was thick and 
round, and it tapered to the tail, which was bifurcated, with 
the upper lobe longest. It was covered with thick hair, 
grey on the back, and red on the belly. No feet nor paws 
were visible. It was full of frolic, and sported in the 
manner of a monkey, swimming sometimes on one side of 
the ship and sometimes on the other. It often raised one- 
third of its body out of the water, and stood upright for a 
considerable time. It would frequently bring up a sea- 
plant, not unlike a bottle-gourd, which it would toss about 
and catch in its mouth, playing numberless fantastic tricks 
with it. 

Somewhat similar accounts have been brought from the 
Southern Hemisphere, two, at least, of which arc worth 
transcribing. 

Captain Colnett, in his ' Voyage to the South Atlantic,' 
says : — "A very singular circumstance happened off the 
coast of Chili, in lat. 24° S., which spread some alarm 
amongst my people, and awakened their superstitious ap- 
prehensions. About 8 o'clock in the evening an animal 



26 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

rose alongside the ship, and uttered such shrieks and tones 
of lamentation, so much Hke those produced by the female 
human voice when expressing the deepest distress as to 
occasion no small degree of alarm among those who first 
heard it. These cries continued for upwards of three hours, 
and seemed to increase as the ship sailed from it. I never 
heard any noise whatever that approached so near those 
sounds which proceed from the organs of utterance in the 
human species." 

Captain Weddell, in his ' Voyage towards the South 
Pole ' (p. 143), writes that one of his men, having been left 
ashore on Hall's Island to take care of some produce, heard 
one night about ten o'clock, after he had lain down to rest, 
a noise resembling human cries. As daylight does not 
disappear in those latitudes at the season in which the 
incident occurred, the sailor rose and searched along the 
beach, thinking that, possibly, a boat might have been upset, 
and that some of the crew might be clinging to the detached 
rocks. 

" Roused by that voice of silver sound. 
From the paved floor he lightly sprung, 
And, glaring with his eyes around, 
Where the fair nymph her tresses wrung," * 

guided by occasional sounds, he at length saw an object 
lying on a rock a dozen yards from the shore, at which he 
was somewhat frightened. "The face and shoulders ap- 
peared of human form and of a reddish colour ; over the 
shoulders hung long green hair ; the tail resembled that of 
a seal, but the extremities of the arms he could not see 
distinctly." 

" As on the wond'ring youth she smiled, 
Again she raised the melting lay,"* 

* John Leyden. 



THE MERMAID. Tj 

for the creature continued to make a musical noise during 
the tw.o minutes he gazed at it, and, on perceiving him, 
disappeared in an instant. 

The universality of the belief in an animal of combined 
human and fish-like form is very remarkable. That it 
exists amongst the Japanese we have evidence in their 
curious and ingeniously-constructed models which are 
occasionally brought to this countr}^ I have one of 
these which is so exactly the counterpart of that which 
my friend ]\Ir. Frank Buckland described, originally in 
Land and Water, and which forms the subject of a 
chapter in his ' Curiosities of Natural Histor\-,' * that the 
portrait of the one (Fig. 13) will equally well represent 





^?>»» 



FIG. 13. — A JAPANESE ARTIFICIAL MERMAID. 

the other. The lower half of the body is made of the skin 
and scales of a fish of the carp family, and fastened on 
to this, so neatly that it is hardly possible to detect where 
the joint is made, is a wooden body, the ribs of which are so 
prominent that the poor mermaid has a miserable and half- 
star\^ed appearance. The upper part of the body is in the 
attitude of a Sphinx, leaning upon its elbows and fore-arms. 
The arms are thin and scraggy, and the fingers attenuated 
and skeleton-like. The nails are formed of small pieces of 



Third Series, vol. ii. p. 134, 2nd ed. 



28 



SEA FABLES EXPLALXED. 



ivor>' or bone. The head is like that of a small monkey, and 
a little wool covers the crown, so thinly and untidily that if 
the mermaid possessed a crystal mirror she would see the 
necessity for the vigorous use of her comb of pearl. The 
teeth are those of some fish — apparently of the cat-fish, 
{Anarchicas luptcs). These Japanese artificial mermaids have 
brought many a dollar into the pockets of Mr. Barnum and 
other showmen. 

Somewhat different in appearance from this, but of the 
same kind, was an artificial mermaid described in the 
Saturday Magazine of June 4th, 1836. 
Fig. 14 is a facsimile of the woodcut 
which accompanied it. This grotesque 
composition was exhibited in a glass 
case, some years previously, " in a 
leading street at the west end " of 
London. It was constructed " of the 
skin of the head and shoulders of a 
monkey, which was attached to the 
dried skin of a fish of the salmon kind 
with the head cut off, and the whole 
was stuffed and highly varnished, the 
better to deceive the eye." It was 
said to have been " taken by the crew 
of a Dutch vessel from on board a 
native Malacca boat, and from the 
reverence shown to it, it was supposed 
to be a representative of one of their idol gods." I am 
inclined to think that it was of Japanese origin. 

Fig. 15 is described in the article above referred to as 
having been copied from a Japanese drawing, and as being 
a portrait of one of their deities. Its similarity to one of 




FIG. 14. — AN ARTIFICIAL 
MERMAID, PROBABLY 
JAPANESE. 



THE MERMAID. 




those of the Assyrians (Fig. 2, page 3) is remarkable. The 
inscription, however, does not indicate this. The Chinese 
characters in the centre — " Nin giyo " — signify " human 
fish ; " those on the right in Japanese Hira Katia, or running- 
hand, have the same purport, and those on the left, in Kata 
Kana, the characters of the Japanese alphabet, mean '' Ichi 
hint ike " — " one day kept alive.'' The whole legend seems 
to pretend that this human fish was actually caught, and 
kept alive in water for twenty-four hours, but, as the box on 
which it is inscribed is one of those in which the Japanese 
showmen keep their toys, it was 
probably the subject of a 
" penny peep-show," 
- We need not travel from our 
own countr}- to find the belief 
in mermaids yet existing. It is 
still credited in the north of 
Scotland that they inhabit the 
neighbouring seas : and Dr. 
Robert Hamilton. F.R.S.E., 
writing in 1839, expressed em- 
phatically his opinion that there 

was then as much ignorance on this subject as had pre- 
vailed at any former period.* 

In the year 1797, ^Ir. ^lunro, schoolmaster of Thurso, 
affirmed that he had seen " a figure like a naked female, 
sitting on a rock projecting into the sea, at Sandside Head, 
in the parish of Reay. Its head was covered with long, 
thick, light-brown hair, flowing down on the shoulders. 
The forehead was round, the face plump, and the cheeks 
ruddy. The mouth and lips resembled those of a human 
being, and the eyes were blue. The arms, fingers, breast, 
* Naturalist's Library, Marine Amphibia?, p. 291. 



s 




\ 




A 

k 





. 15. — A ilERilAlD. From a 
Japanes: picture. 



30 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

and ribdomcn \vcre as large as those of a full-grown 
female," ajid, altcgetlier, 

"That sea-n\niipl-i's form of peaiiy light 
Was whiter than the downy spray. 
And round her bosom, heaving bright, 
Her glossy yellow ringlets play." * 

"This creature,"" continued ]\Ir. Munro, "was apparently 
in tlieact of combing its hair with its fingers, which seemed 
to afford it pleasure, and it remained thus occupied during 
some minutes, when it dropped into the sea."' The Dominie 

"saw the maiden there, 
Just as the daylight faded, 
Braiding her locks of gowden hair 
An' singing as she braided,"' f 

but he did not remark whether the fingers were webbed. 
On the whole, he infers that this was a marine animal of 
which he had a distinct and satisfactory view, and that 
the portion seen by him bore a narrow resemblance to the 
human form. But for the dangerous situation it had chosen, 
and its appearance among the waves, he would have sup- 
posed it to be a woman. Twelve years later, several persons 
obser\-ed near the same spot an animal which they also 
supposed to be a mermaid. 

A ver}- remarkable story of this kind is one related by 
Dr. Robert Hamilton in the volume alread}- referred to, 
and for the general truth of which he vouches, from his 
personal knowledge of some of the persons connected with 
the occurrence. In 1S23 it was reported that some fishermen 
of Yell, one of the Shetland group, had captured a mermaid 
by its being entangled in their lines. The statement was that 

• John Le5"den. 

t The Ettrick Shepherd. 



THE MERMAID. 31 

" the animal was about three feet long, the upper part of the 
body resembling the human, with protuberant mammae, 
like a woman ; the face, forehead, and neck were short, 
and resembled those of a monkey ; the arms, which were 
small, were kept folded across the breast ; the fingers were 
distinct, not webbed ; a few stiff, long bristles were on the 
top of the head, extending down to the shoulders, and 
these it could erect and depress at pleasure, something like 
a crest. The inferior part of the body was like a fish. 
The skin was smooth, and of a grey colour. It offered no 
resistance, nor attempted to bite, but uttered a low, plaintive 
sound. The crew, six in number, took it within their boat, 
but, superstition getting the better of curiosity, they care- 
fully disentangled it from the lines and a hook which had 
accidentally become fastened in its body, and returned it 
to its native element. It instantly dived, descending in a per- 
pendicular direction." Mr. Edmonston, the original narrator 
of this incident, was " a well-known and intelligent observer," 
says Dr. Hamilton, and in a communication made by him 
to the Professor of Natural History in the Edinburgh 
University gave the following additional particulars, which 
he had learned from the skipper and one of the crew of 
the boat. "They had the animal for three hours within 
the boat : the body was without scales or hair ; it was of a 
silvery grey colour above, and white below ; it was like the 
human skin ; no gills were observed, nor fins on the back 
or belly. The tail was like that of a dog-fish ; the mammae 
were about as large as those of a woman ; the mouth and lips 
were very distinct, and resembled the human. Not one of 
the six men dreamed of a doubt of its being a mermaid, 
and it could not be suggested that they were influenced by 
their fears, for the mermaid is not an object of terror to 
fishermen : it is rather a welcome guest, and danger is 



32 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

apprehended from its experiencing bad treatment." Mr. 
Edmonston concludes by saying that " the usual resources 
of scepticism that the seals and other sea-animals ap- 
pearing under certain circumstances, operating upon an 
excited imagination, and so producing ocular illusion, 
cannot avail here. It is quite impossible that six Shetland 
fishermen could commit such a mistake." It would seem 
that the narrator demands that his readers shall be silenced, 
if unconvinced ; but 

" He that complies against his will 
Is of his own opinion still." 

This incident is well-attested, and merits respectful and 
careful consideration ; but I decline to admit any such im- 
possibility of error in observation or description on the part 
of the fishermen, or the further impossibility of recognising 
in the animal captured by them one known to naturalists. 
The particulars given in this instance, and also of the 
supposed merman seen cast ashore dead in 1719 by the 
Rev. Peter Angel (p. 22), are sufficiently accurate descrip- 
tions of a warm-blooded marine animal, with which the 
Shetlanders, and probably Mr. Edmonston also, were un- 
acquainted, namely, the rytina, of which I shall have more 
to say presently ; and these occurrences afford some slight 
hope that this remarkable beast may not have become 
extinct in 1768, as has been supposed, but that it may still 
exist somewhat further south than it was met with by its 
original describer, Steller. 

Turning to Ireland, we find the same credence in the 
semi-human fish, or fish-tailed human being. In the 
autumn of 18 19 it was affirmed that "a creature appeared 
on the Irish coast, about the size of a girl ten years of age, 



THE MERMAID. 33 

^vith a bosom as prominent as one of sixteen, having a 
profusion of long dark-brown hair, and full, dark eyes. The 
hands and arms were formed like those of a man, with a 
slight web connecting the upper part of the fingers, which 
were frequently employed in throwing back and dividing 
the hair. The tail appeared like that of a dolphin." This 
creature remained basking on the rocks during an hour, in 
the sight of numbers of people, until frightened by the flash 
of a musket, when 

" Away she went with a sea-gull's scream, 
And a splash of her saucy tail," * 

for it instantly plunged with a scream into the sea. 

From Irish legends we learn that those sea-nereids, the 
" Merrows," or " Moruachs " came occasionally from the sea, 
gained the affections of men, and interested themselves in 
their affairs ; and similar traditions of the " Morgan " (sea- 
women) and the " Morverch " (sea-daughters) are current in 
Brittany. 

In English poetry the mermaid has been the subject of 

many charming verses, and Shakspearc alludes to it in his 

plays no less than six times. The head-quarters of these 

" daughters of the sea " in England, or of the belief in their 

existence, are in Cornwall. There the fisherman, many a 

time and 

" Oft, beneath the silver moon,t 
Has heard, afar, the mermaid sing," 

and has listened, so they say, to 

"The mermaid's sweet sea-soothing lay 
That charmed the dancing waves to sleep." f 



* Tom Hood. ' The Mermaid at Margate.' 
t John Leyden. 

D 



34 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

Mr. Robert Hunt, F.R.S., in his collection of the tradi- 
tions and superstitions of old Cornwall,* records several 
curious legends of the " merrymaids " and " merrymen " (the 
local name of mermaids), which he had gathered from the 
fisher-folk and peasants in different parts of that county. 

And, in a pleasant article in 'All the Year Round,'! 1865, 
"A Cornish Vicar "J mentions some of the superstitions of the 
people in his neighbourhood, and the perplexing questions 
they occasionally put to him. One of his parishioners, an 
old man named Anthony Cleverdon, but who was popularly 
known as " Uncle Tony," having been the seventh son of 
his parents, in direct succession, was looked upon, in conse- 
quence, as a soothsayer. This " ancient augur " confided to 
his pastor many highly efficacious charms and formularies, 
and, in return, sought for information from him on other 
subjects. One day he puzzled the parson by a question 
which so well illustrates the local ideas concerning mer- 
maids, and the sequel of which is, moreover, so humorously 
related by the vicar, that I venture to quote his own words, 
as follows : — 

" Uncle Tony said to me, ' Sir, there is one thing I want 
to ask you, if I may be so free, and it is this : why should 
a merrymaid, that will ride about upon the waters in such 
terrible storms, and toss from sea to sea in such ruckles as 
there be upon the coast, why should she never lose her 
looking-glass and comb ? ' * Well, I suppose,' said I, ' that 
if there are such creatures, Tony, they must wear their 
looking-glasses and combs fastened on somehow, like fins 

* 'Romances and Drolls of the West of England.' London: Hotten, 
1871. 

t Vol. xiii. p. 336. 

.t The " Cornish Vicar " was, evidently, the Rev. Robert Stephen 
Hawker, M.A., Vicar of Morwenstow, and author of ' Echoes from 
Old Cornwall,' ' Footprints of Former Men in Cornwall/ etc. 



THE MERMAID. 35 

to a fish.' ' See ! ' said Tony, chuckling with dehght, 'what 
a thing it is to know the Scriptures, hke your reverence ; I 
should never have found it out. But there's another point, 
sir, I should like to know, if you please ; I've been bothered 
about it in my mind hundreds of times. Here be I, that 
have gone up and down Holacombe clifts and streams fifty 
years come next Candlemas, and I've gone and watched 
the water by moonlight and sunlight, days and nights, on 
purpose, in rough weather and smooth (even Sundays, too, 
saving your presence), and my sight as good as most men's, 
and yet I never could come to see a merrymaid in all my 
life: how's that, sir.''' 'Are you sure, Tony,' I rejoined, 
' that there are such things in existence at all ? ' ' Oh, sir, 
my old father seen her twice ! He was out one night for 
wreck (my father watched the coast, like most of the old 
people formerly), and it came to pass that he was down at 
the duck-pool on the sand at low-water tide, and all to 
once he heard music in the sea. Well, he croped on 
behind a rock, like a coastguardsman watching a boat, and 
got very near the music .... and there was the merry- 
maid, ver\- plain to be seen, swimming about upon the 
waves like a woman bathing — and singing away. But 
my father said it was very sad and solemn to hear — more 
like the tune of a funeral hymn than a Christmas carol, by 
far — but it was so sweet that it was as much as he could do 
to hold back from plunging into the tide after her. And 
he an old man of sixty-seven, with a wife and a houseful of 
children at home. The second time was down here b\' 
Holacombe Pits. He had been looking out for spars — 
there was a ship breaking up in the Channel — and he saw 
some one move just at half-tide mark, so he went on very 
softly, step by step, till he got nigh the place, and there 
was the merrymaid sitting on a rock, the bootyfullest 

D 2 



3b SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

merry maid that eye could behold, and she was twisting 
about her long hair, and dressing it, just like one of our 
girls getting ready for her sweetheart on the Sabbath-day. 
The old man made sure he should greep hold of her before 
ever she found him out, and he had got so near that a 
couple of paces more and he would have caught her by the 
hair, as sure as tithe or tax, when, lo and behold, she looked 
back and glimpsed him ! So, in one moment she dived 
head-foremost off the rock, and then tumbled herself topsy- 
turvy about in the water, and cast a look at my poor father, 
and grinned like a seal.' " And a seal it probably was that 
Tony's " poor father " saw. 

What, then, are these mermaids and mermen, a belief in 
whose existence has prevailed in all ages, and amongst all 
the nations of the earth } Have they, really, some of the 
parts and proportions of man, or do they belong to another 
order of mammals on which credulity and inaccurate 
observation have bestowed a false character ? 

Mr. Swainson, a naturalist of deserved eminence, has 
maintained on purely scientific grounds, that there must exist 
a marine animal uniting the general form of a fish wdth that 
of a man ; that by the laws of Nature the natatorial type 
of the Quadnima/ia is most assuredly wanting, and that, 
apart from man, a being connecting the seals with the 
monkeys is required to complete the circle of quadrumanous 
animals.* 

Mr. Gossef argues that all the characters which Mr. 
Swainson selects as marking the natatorial type of animals 
belong to man, and that he being, in his savage state, a great 
swimmer, is the true aquatic primate, which Mr. Swainson 
regards as absent. Mr. Gosse admits, however, that " nature 

* ' Geography and Distribution of Animals.' 
t ' Romance of Natural History,' 2nd Series. 



THE MERMAID. yj 

has an odd way of mocking at our impossibilities, and " that 
" it may be that green-haired maidens with oary tails, lurk 
in the ocean caves, and keep mirrors and combs upon their 
rocky shelves ; " and the conclusion he arrives at is that the 
combined evidence " induces a strong suspicion that the 
northern seas may hold forms of life as yet uncatalogued 
by science." 

That there are animals in the northern and other seas 
with which we are unacquainted, is more than probable : 
discoveries of animals of new species are constantly being 
made, especially in the life of the deep sea. But I venture 
to think that the production of an animal at present 
unknown is quite unnecessary to account for the supposed 
appearances of mermaids. 

We have in the form and habits of the PJiocidce, or earless 
seals, a sufficient interpretation of almost every incident of 
the kind that has occurred north of the Equator — of those 
in which protuberant inammcs are described, we must 
presently seek another explanation. The round, plump, 
expressive face of a seal, the beautiful, limpid eyes, the 
hand-like fore-paws, the sleek body, tapering towards the 
flattened hinder fins, which are directed backwards, and 
spread out in the form of a broad fin, like the tail of a fish, 
might well give the idea of an animal having the anterior 
part of its body human and the posterior half piscine. 

In the habits of the seals, also, we may trace those of the 
supposed mermaid, and the more easily the better we are 
acquainted with them. All seals arc fond of leaving the 
water frequently. They always select the flattest and most 
shelving rocks which have been covered at high tide, and 
prefer those that are separated from the mainland. They 
generally go ashore at half-tide, and invariably lie with 
their heads towards the water, and seldom more than a 



38 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

yard or two from it. There they Avill often remain, if 
undisturbed, for six hours ; that is, until the returning tide 
floats them off the rock. As for the sweet melody, 
" so melting soft," that must depend much on the ear and 
musical taste of the listener. I have never heard a seal 
utter any vocal sounds but a porcine grunt, a plaintive 
moan, and a pitiful whine. But another habit of the seals 
has, probably more than anything else, caused them to be 
mistaken for semi-human beings — namely, that of poising 
themselves upright in the water with the head and the 
upper third part of the body above the surface. 

One calm sunny morning in August, l88i, a fine schooner- 
yacht, on board of which I was a guest, was slowly gliding 
out of the mouth of the river Maas, past the Hook of 
Holland, into the North Sea, when a seal rose just ahead 
of us, and assumed the attitude above described. It waited 
whilst we passed it, inspecting us apparently with the 
greatest interest ; then dived, swam in the direction in 
which we were sailing, so as to intercept our course, and 
came up again, sitting upright as before. This it repeated 
three times, and so easily might it have been taken for a 
mermaid, that one of the party, who was called on deck to 
see it, thought, at first, that it was a boy who had swam off 
from the shore to the vessel on a begging expedition. 

Laing, in his account of a voyage to the North, mentions 
having seen a seal under similar circumstances. 

A young seal which was brought from Yarmouth to the 
Brighton Aquarium in 1873, habitually sat thus, showing 
his head and a considerable portion of his body out of 
water. His bath was so shallow in some parts that he was 
able to touch the bottom, and, with his after-flippers tucked 
under him, like a lobster's tail, and spread out in front, he 
would balance himself on his hind quarters, and look in- 



THE MERMAID. 39 

quisitively at everybody, and listen attentively to every- 
thing within sight and hearing. When he was satisfied 
that no one was likely to interfere with him, and that it 
was unnecessary to be on the alert, he would half-close his 
beautiful, soft eyes, and cither contentedly pat, stroke, and 
scratch his little fat stomach with his right paw, or flap 
both of them across his breast in a most ludicrous manner, 
exactly as a cabman warms the tips of his fingers on a . 
wintry day, by swinging his arms vigorously across his 
chest, and striking his hands against his body on either 
side. He was very sensitive to musical sounds, as many 
dogs are, and when a concert took place in the building a 
high note from one of the vocalists would cause hhn to 
utter a mournful wail, and to dive with a splash that made 
the water fly, the audience smile, and the singer frown. 

Captain Scoresby tells us that he had seen the walrus 
with its head above water, and in such a position that it 
required little stretch of imagination to mistake it for a 
human being, and that on one occasion of this kind the 
surgeon of his ship actually reported to him that he had 
seen a man with his head above water. 

Peter Gunnersen's merman (p. 24), who " blew up his 
cheeks and made a kind of roaring noise " before diving, 
was probably a "bladder-nose" seal. The males of that 
species have on the head a peculiar pad, which the}' can 
dilate at pleasure, and their voice is loud and discordant. 

The appearance and behaviour of Stcllcr's " sea-ape," 
described on p. 25, may, I think, be attributed to one of 
the eared seals, the so-called sea-lions, or sea-bears. Every 
one who has seen these animals fed must have noticed the 
rapidity with which they will di\-e and swim to an\- part of 
their pond where they expect to receive food, and how, 
like a dog after a pebble, they will keenly watch their 



40 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

keeper's movements, and start in the direction to which he 
is apparently about to throw a fish, even before the latter 
has left his hand. This may be seen at the Zoological 
Gardens, Regent's Park, and, better than anywhere else in 
Europe, at the Jardin d'Acclimatation, Paris. It would be 
quite in accordance with their habits that one of these 
Otaria should dive under a ship, and rise above the surface 
on either side, eagerly surveying those on board, in hope of 
obtaining food, or from mere curiosity. 

The seals and their movements account for so many 
mermaid stories, that all accounts of sea-women with 
prominent bosoms were ridiculed and discredited until 
competent observers recognised in the form and habits of 
certain aquatic animals met with in the bays and estuaries 
of the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the west coast of Africa, 
and sub-tropical America, the originals of these "travellers' 
tales." These were — first, the manatee, which is found in 
the West Indian Islands, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and 
Brazil, and in Africa in the River Congo, Senegambia, and 
the Mozambique Channel ; second, the diigong, or halicoj-ey 
which ranges along the east coast of Africa, Southern Asia, 
the Bornean Archipelago, and Australia ; and, third, the 
rytina, seen on Behring's Island in the Kamschatkan Sea 
by Steller, the Russian zoologist and voyager, in 1741, and 
which is supposed to have become extinct within twenty- 
seven years after its discovery, by its having been recklessly 
and indiscriminately slaughtered.* Then science, in the 
person of Illeger, made the amende honorable, and frankly 

* Almost all that is known of the living rytina is from an account 
published in 175 1, in St. Petersburg, by Steller, who was one of an ex- 
ploring party wrecked on Behring's Island in 1741. During the ten 
months the crew remained on the island they pursued this easily-cap- 
tured animal so persistently, for food, that it was all but annihilated at 
the lime. The last one there was killed in 1768. 



THE MERMAID. 41 

accepting Jack's introduction to his fish-tailed iiinamorata, 
classed these three animals together as a sub-order of the 
animal kingdom, and bestowed on them the name of the 
Sirenia. This was, of course, in allusion to the Sirens of 
classical mythology, who, in later art, were represented as 
having the body of a woman above the waist, and that 
of a fish below, although the lower portion of their body 
was originally described as being in the form of a bird. 

It has been found difficult to determine to which order 
these Majiatidcs are most nearly allied. In shape they most 
closely resemble the whales and seals. But the cetacea 
are all carnivorous, whereas the manatee and its relatives 
live entirely on vegetable food. Although, therefore, Dr. 
J. E. Gray, following Cuvier, classed them with the cetacea 
in his British ]\Iuseum catalogue, other anatomists, as 
Professor Agassiz, Professor Owen, and Dr. Murie, regard 
their resemblance to the whales as rather superficial than 
real, and conclude from their organisation and dentition 
that they ought either to form a group apart or be classed 
with the pachyderms — the hippopotamus, tapir, etc. — with 
which they have the nearest affinities, and to which they 
seem to have been more immediately linked by the now 
lost genera, Dinotherinni and Halithcrinm. With the 
opinion of those last-named authorities I entirely agree. I 
regard the manatee as exhibiting a wonderful modification 
and adaptation of the structure of a warm-blooded land 
animal which enables it to pass its whole life in water, and 
as a connecting link between the hippopotamus, elephant, 
etc., on the one side, and the whales and seals on the other. 

The Halithermni was a Sirenian with which we are only 
acquainted by its fossil remains found in the Miocene 
formation of Central and Southern Europe. These indicate 
that it had short hind limbs, and, consequently, approached 



42 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

more nearly the terrestrial type than either the manatee, 
the rytina, or the dugong, in which the hind limbs are 
absent. The two last named tend more than does the 
manatee to the marine mammals ; but there is a strong 
likeness between these three recent forms. They all have 
a cylindrical body, like that of a seal, but instead of hind 
limbs there is in all a broad tail flattened horizontally ; and 
the chief difference in their outward appearance is in the 
shape of this organ. In the manatee it is rounded, in the 
dugong forked like that of a whale, in the rytina crescent- 
shaped. The tail of the Halitheriuin appears to have been 
shaped somewhat like that of the beaver. The body of 
the manatee is broader in proportion to its length and 
depth than that of the dugong. In a paper read before the 
Royal Society, July 12th, 1821, on a manatee sent to 
London in spirits by the Duke of Manchester, then 
Governor of Jamaica, Sir Everard Home remarked of this 
greater lateral expansion that, as the manatee feeds on 
plants that grow at the mouths of great rivers, and the dugong 
upon those met with in the shallows amongst small islands 
in the Eastern seas, the difference of form would make the 
manatee more buoyant and better fitted to float in fresh 
water. 

In all the Ulanatidcs the mammae of the female, which 
are greatly distended during the period of lactation, are 
situated very differently from those of the whales, being 
just beneath the pectoral fins. These fins or paws are 
much more flexible and free in their movements than 
those of the cetae, and are sufficiently prehensile to enable 
the animal to gather food between the palms or inner 
surfaces of both, and the female to hold her young one 
to her breast with one of them. Like the whales, they are 
warm-blooded mammals, breathing by lungs, and are there- 



THE MERMAID. 



43 



fore obliged to come to the surface at frequent inter\-als 
for respiration. As they breathe through nostrils at the 
end of the muzzle, instead of, like most of the whales, 
through a blow-hole on the top of the head, their habit is 
to rise, sometimes vertically, in the water, with the head 
and fore part of the body exposed above the surface, and 
often to remain in this position for some minutes. When 
seen thus, with head and breast bare, and clasping its 
young one to its body, the female presents a certain re- 




FIG. i6. — THE DUGONG. Fvom Sir J. Emcrsoii Tcnucnt's '■ dylon.^ 



semblance to a woman from the waist upward. When 
approached or disturbed it dives ; the tail and hinder portion 
of the body come into view, and we see that if there was 
little of the " inulier fonnosa siepcrjie," at any rate " dcsinit 
in piscem!' The manatee has thence been called by the" 
Spaniards and Portuguese the "woman-fish," and by the 
Dutch the "manetje," or mannikin. The dugong, having 
the muzzle bristly, is named b\- the latter the "baard- 
manetje," or "little bearded man." There are no bristles 
or whiskers on the muzzle of the manatee ; all the portraits 



44 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

of it in which these are shown are in that respect erroneous. 
The origin of the word " manatee " has by some been 
traced to the Spanish, as indicating " an animal with 
hands." On the west coast of Africa it is called by the 
natives " Ne-hoo-le." By old writers it was described as 
the "sea-cow." Gesner depicts it in the act of bellowing; 
and Mr. Bates, in his work, " The Naturalist on the 
Amazon," says that its voice is something like the bellow- 
ing of an ox. The Florida " crackers " or " mean whites," 
make the same statement. Although I have had oppor- 
tunities of prolonged observation of it in captivity, I have 
not heard it give utterance to any sound — not even a grunt 
— and Mr. Bartlett, of the Zoological Gardens, tells me that 
his experience of it is the same. His son, Mr. Clarence 
Bartlett, says that a young one he had in Surinam used to 
make a feeble cry, or bleat, very much like the voice of 
a young seal. This is the only sound he ever heard from 
a manatee.* 

I believe the dugong to be more especially the animal 
referred to by .^lian as the semi-human whale, and that 
which has led to this group having been supposed by southern 
voyagers to be aquatic human beings. In the first place, 
the dugong is a denizen of the sea, whereas the manatee 
is chiefly found in rivers and fresh-water lagoons ; and 
secondly, the dugong accords with Elian's description of 
the creature with a woman's face in that it has "prickles 
instead of hairs," whilst the manatee has no such stiff 
bristles. 

In the case of either of these two animals being mistaken 

* For a full description of the habits of this animal in captivity, see 
an article by the present writer in the 'Leisure Hour 'of September 
28, 1878 ; from which the illustration, Fig. 17, is borrowed by the kind 
consent of the Editor of that publication. 



THE MERMAID. 45 

for a mermaid, however, " distance " must " lend enchant- 
ment to the view," and a sailor must be ver\- impressible 
and imaginative who, even after ha\*ing been deprived for 
many months of the pleasure of females' society-, could be 
allured bv the charms of a bristlv-muzzled dugong, or 




FIG. 17. — THE MANATEE. ITS USUAL POSITION. 

mistake the snorting of a wallomng manatee for the love- 
song of a beauteous sea-maiden. 

Unfortunately both the dugong and the manatee are 
being hunted to extinction. 

The flesh of the manatee is considered a great delicacy. 



46 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

Humboldt compares it with ham. Unhke that of the 
whales, which is of a deep and dark red hue, it is as white 
as veal, and, it is said, tastes very like it. It is remarkable 
for retaining its freshness much longer than other meat, 
which in a tropical climate generally putrefies in twenty- 
eight hours. It is therefore well adapted for pickling, as 
the salt has time to penetrate the flesh before it is tainted. 
The Catholic clergy of South America do not object to its 
being eaten on fast days, on the supposition that, with 
whales, seals, and other aquatic mammals, it may be liberally 
regarded as " fish." The " Indians " of the Amazon and 
Orinoco are so fond of it that they will spend many days, 
if necessary, in hunting for a manatee, and having killed one 
will cut it into slabs and slices on the spot, and cook these 
on stakes thrust into the ground aslant over a great fire, 
and heavily gorge themselves as long as the provision lasts. 
The milk of this animal is said to be rich and good, and 
the skin is valuable for its toughness, and is much in 
request for making leathern articles in which great strength 
and durability are required. The tail contains a great 
deal of oil, which is believed to be extremely nutritious, 
and has also the property of not becoming rancid. Un- 
happily for the dugong, its oil is in similarly high repute, 
and is greatly preferred as a nutrient medicine to cod- 
liver oil. As its flesh also is much esteemed, it is so 
persistently hunted on the Australian coasts that it will 
probably soon become extinct, like the rytina of Steller. 
The same fate apparently awaits the manatee, which is 
becoming perceptibly more and more scarce. 

I fear that before many years have elapsed the Sirens of 
the Naturalist will have disappeared from our earth, before 
the advance of civilization, as completely as the fables and 
superstitions with which they have been connected, before 



THE MERMAID. 4- 

the increase of knowledge ; and that the mermaid of fact 
will have become as much a creature of the past as the 
mermaid of fiction. With regard to the latter — the Siren of 
the poets, — the water-maiden of the pearly comb, the cn.-stal 
mirror, and the sea-green tresses, — there are few persons I 
suppose, at the present day who would not be content to 
be classed with Banks, the fine old naturalist and formerly 
ship-mate of Captain Cook. Sir Humphry- Da\y in his 
Sahnonia relates an anecdote of a baronet, a profound 
believer in these fish-tailed ladies, who on hearing some one 
praise verj- highly Sir Joseph Banks, said that " Sir Joseph 
was an excellent man, but he had his prejudices — he did 
not believe in the mermaid/' I confess to having a similar 
•' prejudice ; '' and am willing to adopt the further remark 
of Sir Humphry Da\y : — " I am too much of the school of 
Izaac Walton to talk of impossibility-. It doubtless might 
please God to make a mermaid, but I don't believe God 
ever did make one.'' 



48 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



THE LERNEAN HYDRA. 

The mystery of the Kraken, of which I treated in a com- 
panion volume to the present, recently published, is not 
difficult to unravel. The clue to it is plain, and when 
properly taken up is as easily unwound, to arrive at the 
truth, as a cocoon of silk, to get at the chrysalis within 
it. It was a boorish exaggeration, a legend of ignorance, 
superstition, and wonder. But when such a skein of facts 
has passed through the hands of the poets, it is sure to be 
found in a much more intricate tangle ; and many a knot of 
pure invention may have to be cut before it is made clear. 

Nevertheless, we shall be able to discern that more than 
one of the most famous and hideous monsters of old 
classical lore originated, like the Kraken, in a knowledge by 
their authors of the form and habits of those strange sea- 
creatures, the head-footed moUusks. There can be little 
doubt that the octopus was the model from which the old 
poets and artists formed their ideas, and drew their 
pictures of the Lernean Hydra, whose heads grew again 
when cut off by Hercules ; and also of the monster Scylla, 
who, with six heads and six long writhing necks, snatched 
men off the decks of passing ships and devoured them in 
the recesses of her gloomy cavern. 

Of the Hydra Diodorus relates that it had a hundred 
heads ; Simonides says fifty ; but the generally received 
opinion was that of Apollodorus, Hyginus, and others, that 
it had only nine. 



THE LERNEAN HYDRA. 49 

Apollodorus of Athens, son of Asclepiades, who wrote in 
stiff, quaint Greek about 120 B.C., gives in his 'BibHotheca ' 
(book ii. chapter 5, section 2) the following account of the 
many-headed monster. " This Hydra," he says, " nourished 
in the marshes of Lerne, went forth into the open country 
and destroyed the herds of the land. It had a huge body 
and nine heads, eight mortal, but the ninth immortal. 
Having mounted his chariot, which was driven by lolaus, 
Hercules got to Lerne and stopped his horses. Finding 
the Hydra on a certain raised ground near the source of the 
Amymon, where its lair was, he made it come out by pelt- 
ing it with burning missiles. He seized and stopped it, but 
having twisted itself round one of his feet, it struggled with 
him. He broke its head with his club : but that was use- 
less ; for when one head was broken two sprang up, and a 
huge crab helped the Hydra by biting the foot of Hercules. 
This he killed, and called lolaus, who, setting on fire part 
of the adjoining forest, burned with torches the germs of 
the growing heads, and stopped their development. Hav- 
ing thus out-manceuvred the growing heads, he cut off the 
immortal head, buried it, and put a heavy stone upon it, 
beside the road going from Lerne to Eleonta, and having 
opened the Hydra, dipped his arrows in its gall." 

If we wish to find in nature the counterpart of this 
Hydra, we must seek, firstly, for an animal with eight out- 
growths from its trunk, which it can develop afresh, or 
replace by new ones, in case of any or all of them being 
amputated or injured. We must also show that this 
animal, so strange in form and possessing such remarkable 
attributes, was well known in the locality where the legend 
was believed. We have it in the octopus, which abounded 
in the Mediterranean and .^gean seas, and whose eight 
prehensile arms, or tentacles, spring from its central body, 

E 



so 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



the immortal head, and which, if lost or mutilated by 
misadventure, are capable of reproduction. 

That a knowledge of the octopus existed at a very early 
period of man's history we have abundant evidence. The 
ancient Egyptians figured it amongst their hieroglyphics, 
and an interesting proof that they were also acquainted 
with other cephalopods was given to me by the late 
Mr. E. W. Cooke, R.A. Whilst on a trip up the Nile, in 
January, 1875, he visited the temple of Bayr-el-Bahree, 
Thebes (date 1700 B.C.), the entrance to which had been 
deeply buried beneath the light, wind-drifted sand, accu- 




FIG. 18. — FIGURE OF A CALAMARY. From the temple of Bayr-cl-Bahrec. 

mulated during many centuries. By order of the Khedive, 
access had just at that time been obtained to its interior, 
by the excavation and removal of this deep deposit, and, 
amongst the hieroglyphics on the walls, were found, between 
the zig-zag lines which represent water, figures of various 
fishes, copies of which Mr. Cooke kindly gave me, and 
which are so accurately portrayed as to be easily identified. 
With them was the outline of a squid fourteen inches long, 
a figure of which, from Mr. Cooke's drawing, is here shown. 
As this temple is five hundred miles from the delta of the 
Nile, it is remarkable that nearly all the fishes there repre- 
sented are of marine species. 



THE LERNEAN HYDRA. 



51 



That the octopus was a familiar object with the 
ancient Greeks, we know by the frequency with which its 
portrait is found on their coins, gems, and ornaments. 
Aldrovandus describes " very ancient coins " found at 
Syracuse and Tarentum bearing the figure of an octopus. 
He says the Syracusans had two coins, one of bronze, the 
other of gold, both of which had an octopus alone on one 




FIG. 19. — FIGURE OF AN OCTOPUS ON A GOLD ORNAMENT, FOUND BY 
DR. SCHLIEMANN AT MYCENiB, 



side. On the reverse of the bronze one was a veiled 
female face in profile, with the inscription ZYPA. I have one 
of these bronze Syracusan coins ; it was kindly given to 
me, some years ago, by my friend Dr. John Millar, F.L.S. 
The octopus is really well depicted. On the gold coin the 
female head was differently veiled, and at the back of the 
neck was a fish. The inscription on this coin was 

E 2 



52 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

ZYPAKOZION. Goltzius was of the opinion that the head 
was that of Arethusa. The coins found at Tarentum had 
on one side a figure of Neptune seated on a dolphin, and 
holding an octopus in one hand and a trident in the 
other. 

Lerne, or Lerna, the reputed home of the Hydra, was a 
port of Southern Greece, situated at the head of the Gulf 
of NaupHa, and between the existing towns of Argos and 
Tripolitza. Within a few miles of it was Mycenae ; and it 
is remarkable that Dr. Schliemann, during his excavations 




FIG. 20, — GOLDEN ORNAMENT IN FORM OF AN OCTOPUS, FOUND BY 
DR. SCHLIEMANN AT MYCEN.^. 

there in 1876, found in a tomb a gold plate, or button, two 
and a half inches in diameter (Fig. 19), on which is figured an 
octopus, the eight arms of which are converted into spirals, 
the head and the two eyes being distinctly visible. In 
another sepulchre he discovered fifty-three golden models 
of the octopus (Fig 20), all exactly alike, and apparently 
cast in the same mould. The arms are very naturally 
carved. By the kindness of Mr. Murray, his publisher, I am 
enabled to give illustrations of these and two other 
handsome ornaments. 



THE LERNEAN HYDRA. 



53 



Having ascertained that the octopus was a familiar 
object in the very locality where the combat between 
Hercules and the Hydra is supposed to have taken place, 
let us compare the animal as it exists with the monstrous 
offspring of Typhon and Echidna. 

It is a not uncommon occurrence that when an octopus 
is caught it is found to have one or more of its arms shorter 
than the rest, and showing marks of having been amputated, 
and of the formation of a new growth from the old cicatrix. 
Several such specimens were brought to the Brighton 
Aquarium whilst I had charge of its Natural History 





FIGURES OF THE OCTOPUS ON GOLD ORNAMENTS FOUND BY 
DR. SCHLIEMANN AT MYCEX.«. 

Department. One of them was particularly interesting. Two 
of its arms had evidently been bitten off about four inches 
from the base : and out from the end of each healed stump 
(which in proportion to the length of the limb was as if 
a man's arm had been amputated halfway between the 
shoulder and the elbow), grew a slender little piece of newly- 
formed arm, about as large as a lady's stiletto, or a small 
button-hook — in fact just the equivalent of worthy Captain 
Cuttle's iron hook, which did duty for his lost hand. It 
was an illustrative example of the commencement of the 
repair and restoration of mutilated limbs. 
This mutilation is so common in some localities, that 



54 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

Professor Steenstrup says * that almost every octopus he 
has examined has had one or two arms reproduced ; and 
that he has seen females in which all the eight arms had 
been lost, but were more or less restored. He also 
mentions a male in which this was the case as to seven of its 
arms. He adds that whilst the Octopoda possess the power 
of reproducing with great facility and rapidity their arms, 
which are exposed to so many enemies, the Decapoda — the 
SepiidtB and Squids — appear to be incapable of thus 
repairing and replacing accidental injuries. This is 
entirely in accord with my own observations. 

This reparative power is possessed by some other animals, 
of which the starfishes and Crustacea are the most familiar 
instances. In the case of the lobster or crab, however, the 
only joint from which new growth can start is that con- 
nected with the body, so that if a limb be injured in any 
part, the whole of it must be got rid of, and the animal has, 
therefore, the power of casting it off at will. The octopus, 
on the contrary, is incapable of voluntary dismemberment, 
but reproduces the lost portion of an injured arm, as an 
out-growth from the old stump. 

The ancients were well acquainted with this reparative 
faculty of the octopus : but of course the simple fact was 
insufficient for an imaginative people : and they therefore 
embellished it with some fancies of their own. There 
lingers still amongst the fishermen of the Mediterranean a 
\Q:y old belief that the octopus when pushed by hunger 
will gnaw and devour portions of its arms. Aristotle knew 
of this belief, and positively contradicted it ; but a fallacy 
once planted is hard to eradicate. You may cut it down, 
and apparently destroy it, root and branch, but its seeds 
are scattered abroad, and spring up elsewhere, and in un- 
* Ann. and Mag. Nat. Hist. August, 1857. 



THE LERNEAN HYDRA. 55 

expected places. Accordingly, we find Oppian, more than 
five centuries later, disseminating the same old notion, and 
comparing this habit of the animal with that of the bear 
obtaining nutriment from his paws by sucking them during 
his hybernation. 

" When wintry skies o'er the black ocean frown, 
And clouds hang low with ripen'd storms o'ergrown, 
Close in the shelter of some vaulted cave 
The soft-skinn'd prekes * their porous bodies save. 
But forc'd by want, while rougher seas they dread, 
On their own feet, necessitous, are fed. 
But when returning spring serenes the skies, 
Nature the growing parts anew supplies. 
Again on breezy sands the roamers creep, 
Twine to the rocks, or paddle in the deep. 
Doubtless the God whose will commands the seas, 
Whom liquid worlds and wat'ry natives please, 
Has taught the fish by tedious wants opprest 
Life to preserve and be himself the feast. 

The fact is, that the larger predatory fishes regard an 
octopus as very acceptable food, and there is no better 
bait for many of them than a portion of one of its arms. 
Some of the cetacea also are very fond of them, and 
whalers have often reported that when a " fish " (as they 
call it) is struck it disgorges the contents of its stomach, 
amongst which they have noticed parts of the arms of 
cuttles which, judging from the size of their limbs, must 
have been very large specimens. The food of the sperm 
whale consists largely of the gregarious squids, and 
the presence in spermaceti of their undigested beaks is 
accepted as a test of its being genuine. That old fish- 

* The octopus is still called the " preke " in some parts of England, 
notably in Sussex. The translation of Oppian's ' Halicutics,' from 
which this passage and others are quoted is that by Messrs. Jones and 
Diaper, of Baliol College, Oxford, and was published in 1722. 



56 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

reptile, the Ichthyosaurus, also, preyed upon them ; and 
portions of the horny rings of their suckers were discovered 
in its coprolites by Dean Buckland. Amongst the worst 
enemies of the octopus is the conger. They are both rock- 
dwellers, and if the voracious fish come upon his cephalopod 
neighbour unseen, he makes a meal of him, or, failing to 
drag him from his hold, bites off as much of one or two 
of his arms as he can conveniently obtain. The conger, 
therefore, is generally the author of the injury which the 
octopus has been unfairly accused of inflicting on itself. 

Continuing our comparison with the hydra, we have in 
the octopus an animal capable of quitting its rocky lurking- 
place in the sea, and going on a buccaneering expedition 
on dry land. Many incidents have been related in con- 
nection with this ; but I can attest it from my own obser- 
vation. I have seen an octopus travel over the floor of a 
room at a very fair rate of speed, toppling and sprawling 
along in its own ungainly fashion ; and in May, 1873, we 
had one at the Brighton Aquarium which used regularly 
every night to quit its tank, and make its way along the 
wall to another tank at some distance from it, in which 
were some young lump-fishes. Day after day, one of these 
was missing, until, at last, the marauder was discovered. 
Many days elapsed, however, before he was detected, for 
after helping himself to, and devouring a young "lump- 
sucker," he demurely returned before daylight to his own 
quarters. 

Of this habit of the octopus the ancients were, also, fully 
aware. Aristotle wrote that it left the water and walked 
in stony places, and Pliny and ^lian related tales of 
this animal stealing barrels of salt fish from the wharves, 
and crushing their staves to get at the contents. An 
octopus that could do this would be as formidable a 



THE LERNEAN HYDRA. 



57 



predatory monster as the Lcrnean Hydra, which had the 
evil reputation of devouring the Peloponnesian cattle. 

Whoever first described the counter-attack of the Hydra 
on Hercules must have had the octopus in his thoughts. " It 
twisted itself round one of his feet " — exactly that which an 
octopus would do. 

Finally, according to the legend, Hercules dipped his 
arrow-heads in the gall of the Hydra, and, from its poisonous 
nature, all the wounds he inflicted with them upon his 




FIG. 23. — HERCULES SLAYING THE LERNEAN HYDRA. 

From Smith'' s ' Classical Dictionary.^ 

enemies proved fatal. It is worthy of notice that the 
ancients attributed to the octopus the possession of a 
similarly venomous secretion. Thus Oppian writes : / ./ 



" The crawling preke a deadly juice contains 
Injected poison fires the wounded veins." 

The accompanying illustration (Fig. 23) of Hercules 
slaying the Hydra is taken from a marble tablet in the 
Vatican. It will be immediately seen how closely the 
Hydra, as there depicted, resembles an octopus. The body 



58 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

is elongated, but the eight necks with small heads on them 
bear about the same proportion to the body as the arms to 
the body of an octopus. 

The Reverend James Spence, in his * Polymetis,' pub- 
lished in 1755, gives a figure, almost the counterpart of this, 
copied from an antique gem, a carnelian, in the collection of 
the Grand Duke of Tuscany at Florence. Only seven 
necks of the hydra are, however, there visible, and there 
are two coils in the elongated body. On the upper part 
are two spots which have been supposed to represent 
breasts. This was probably intended by the artificer ; but 
that the idea originated from a duplication of the syphon 
tube is evident from the figures (Figs. 21, 22) of the octopus 
on the smaller gold ornaments found by Dr. Schliemann at 
Mycenae. In the same work is also an engraving from a 
picture in the Vatican Virgil, entitled 'The River, or 
Hateful Passage into the Kingdom of Ades,' wherein an 
octopus — hydra, of which only six heads and necks are 
shown, is one of the monsters called by the author " Terrors 
of the Imae^ination." 



C 59 ). 



SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS. 

In the description given by Homer, in the twelfth book of 
the ' Odyssey,* of the unfortunate nymph Scylla, transformed 
by the arts of Circe into a frightful monster, the same 
typical idea as in the case of the Hydra is perceptible. The 
lurking octopus, having its lair in the cranny of a rock, 
watching in ambush for passing prey, seizing anything 
coming within its reach with one or more of its prehensile 
arms, even brandishing these fear-inspiring weapons out of 
water in a threatening manner, and known in some locali- 
ties to be dangerous to boats and their occupants, is trans- 
formed into a many-headed sea monster, seizing in its 
mouths, instead of by the adhesive suckers of its numerous 
arms, the helpless sailors from passing vessels, and devour- 
ing them in the abysses of its cavernous den. 

Circe, prophesying to Ulysses the dangers he had still to 
encounter, warned him especially of Scylla and Charybdis, 
within the power of one of whom he must fall in passing 
through the narrow strait (between Italy and Sicily) where 
they had their horrid abode. Describing the lofty rock of 
Scylla, she tells him : 

" Full in the centre of this rock displayed 
A yawning cavern casts a dreadful shade, 
Nor the fleet arrow from the twanging bow 
Sent with full force, could reach the depth below. 
Wide to the west the horrid gulf extends, 
And the dire passage down to hell descends. 



6o SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

O fly the dreadful sight ! expand thy sails, 
Ply the strong oar, and catch the nimble gales ; 
Here Scylla bellows from her dire abodes ; 
Tremendous pest ! abhorred by man and gods ! 
Hideous her voice, and with less terrors roar 
The whelps of lions in the midnight hour. 
Twelve feet deformed and foul the fiend dispreads ; 
Six horrid necks she rears, and six terrific heads ; 

* * ^ :lf Hf * 

When stung with hunger she embroils the flood, 

The sea-dog and the dolphin are her food ; 

She makes the huge leviathan her prey, 

And all the monsters of the wat'ry way ; 

The swiftest racer of the azure plain 

Here fills her sails and spreads her oars in vain ; 

Fell Scylla rises, in her fury roars, 

At once six mouths expands, at once six men devours." * 

Circe then describes the perils of the whirling waters of 
Charybdis as still more dreadful ; and, admonishing Ulysses 
that once in her power all must perish, she advises him to 
choose the lesser of the two evils, and to 

" shun the horrid gulf, by Scylla fly ; 
'Tis better six to lose than all to die." 

Ulysses continues his voyage ; and as his ship enters the 
ominous strait, 

" Struck with despair, with trembling hearts we viewed 
The yawning dungeon, and the tumbling flood ; 
When, lo ! fierce Scylla stooped to seize her prej', 
Stretched her dire jaws, and swept six men away. 
Chiefs of renown ! loud echoing shrieks arise ; 
I turn, and view them quivering in the skies ; 
They call, and aid, with outstretched arms, implore, 
In vain they call ! those arms are stretched no more. 
As from some rock that overhangs the flood, 
The silent fisher casts th' insidious food ; 



* Homer's ' Odyssey,' Pope's Translation, Book XII. 



SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS. 6i 

With fraudful care he waits the finny prize, 

And sudden hfts it quivering to the skies ; 

So the foul monster Hfts her prey on high, 

So pant the wretches, strugghng in the sky ; 

In the wide dungeon she devours her food, 

And'the flesh trembles while she churns the blood." 



62 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



THE "SPOUTING" OF WHALES. 

One of the sea-fallacies still generally believed, and accepted 
as true, is that whales take in water by the mouth, and 
eject it from the spiracle, or blow-hole. 

The popular ideas on this subject are still those which 
existed hundreds of years ago, and which are expressed by 
Oppian in two passages in his ' Halieutics ' : 



and 



" Uncouth the sight when they in dreadful play- 
Discharge their nostrils and refund a sea," 

" While noisy fin-fish let their fountains fly 
And spout the curling torrent to the sky." 



Eminent zoologists and intelligent observers, who have 
had full opportunities of obtaining practical knowledge of 
the habits of these great marine mammals, have forcibly 
combated and repeatedly contradicted this erroneous idea ; 
but their sensible remarks have been read by few, in com- 
parison with the numbers of those to whom a wrong im- 
pression has been conveyed by sensational pictures in which 
whales are represented zvith their heads above the surface, 
and throwing up from their nostrils columns of water, like 
the fountains in Trafalgar Square. One can hardly be 
surprised that the old writers on Natural History were un- 
acquainted with the real composition of the whale's " spout." 
Those of them who sought for any original information on 
marine zoology, obtained it chiefly from uninstructed and 
superstitious fishermen ; but they generally contented 



THE ''SPOUTING'' OF WHALES. 63 

themselves with diligent compilation, and thus copied and 
transmitted the errors of their predecessors, with the 
addition of some slight embellishments of their own. Ac- 
cordingly, we find Olaus Magnus * describing, as follows, 
the Physeter, or, as his translator, Streater, calls it, the 
Whirlpool. " The PJiyscter or Pristis," he says, " is a kind 
of whale, two hundred cubits long, and is very cruel. For, 
to the danger of seamen, he will sometimes raise himself 
above the sail-yards, and casts such floods of waters above 
his head, which he had sucked in, that with a cloud of them 
he will often sink the strongest ships, or expose the mariners 
to extreme danger. This beast hath also a large round 
mouth, like a lamprey, whereby he sucks in his meat or 
water, and by his weight cast upon the fore or hinder deck, 
he sinks and drowns a ship." 

Figures 24 and 25 (p. 64) are facsimiles of the illustrations 
which accompany the above description. It will be seen 
that, in the first, the Physeter is depicted as uprearing a 
maned neck and head, like that of a fabled dragon ; whilst 
in Fig. 25 it is shown as a whale flinging itself on board a 
ship, which is sinking under its ponderous weight. In 
both, torrents of water are issuing from its head, and it is 
evident that they are merely exaggerated misrepresenta- 
tions of the " spouting " of whales. 

Gesner copies many of Olaus Magnus's illustrations, and 
improves upon Fig. 25 by putting a numerous crew on 
board the ship. The unfortunate sailors are depicted in 
every attitude of terror and despair, and seem to be in- 
capacitated from any attempt to save themselves by the 
flood of water which the whale is deliberately pouring upon 
them from its blow-holes. 

* ' Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus,' lib. xxi. cap. vi. a.d. 
I55S- 



64 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 




FIG. 24.— THE PHYSETER INUNDATING A SHIP. Afie>- OlaUS MagllUS. 

These old pictures appear, no doubt, ridiculous, but they 
are, really, very little more absurd and untrue to nature 
than many of those which disfigure some otherwise useful 
books on Natural History of the present day. I could 




FIG. 25.— A WHALE POURING WATER INTO A SHIP FROM ITS BLOW-HOLE. 

Aftej- Olaus Magnus. 



THE ''SPOUTING'' OF WHALES. 



(>l 



refer to several, in which whales are represented as spouting 
from their blow-holes one or more columns of water, which, 
after ascending skyward to a considerable distance, fall 



S^:^3r-^llllfllfMirfm 




over gracefully as if issuing from the nozzle of an ornamental 
fountain. I select one from amongst them (Fig, 26), not with 
any disrespect for the artist, author, or publisher of the work 

F 



66 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

from which it is taken, but because, whilst it shows correctly 
the position of the blow-hole of the sperm whale, it also ex- 
hibits exactly that which I wish to confute. The publishers 
of the valuable work in which this picture appeared have 
generously consented to my reproducing it here. 

When, in describing, in 1877, the White Whale then ex- 
hibited at the Westminster Aquarium, I said that whales 
do not spout water out of their blow-holes, and that the 
idea that they do so is a popular error, the statement was 
so contrary to generally-accepted notions that I was not 
surprised by receiving more than one letter on the subject. 
One very reasonable suggestion made to me was that, 
although the lesser whales, such as the porpoises, which I 
had had^ opportunities of watching in confinement at 
Brighton for two years, and the Beluga, which had been 
observed for a similar period at the New York Aquarium, 
and also at Westminster, did not " spout," the respiratory 
apparatus of the larger whales might be so modified as to 
permit them to do so. Let us consider the construction of 
the breathing apparatus which would have to be thus 
modified, as shown in the porpoise. 

In the first place, there is a pair of lungs as perfect as 
those of any land mammal, fitted to receive air, and to 
bring the hot blood into contact with the air, that it may 
absorb the oxygen of the air, and so be purified. But this 
air cannot well be breathed through the mouth of an 
animal which has to take its food from and in water ; so it 
has to be inhaled only by the nostrils. If these were 
situated as they are in land mammals, near the extremity 
of the nose, the porpoise would be obliged to stop when 
pursuing its prey, or, escaping from its enemies, to put the 
tip of its nose above the surface of the water every time it 
required to breathe. A much more convenient arrange- 



THE ''SPOUTING'' OF WHALES. 67 

ment has, therefore, been provided for it, and for almost all 
whales, by which that difficulty is removed. Instead of 
running along the bones of the nose, the nostrils are placed 
on the top of the head, and the windpipe is turned up to 
them without having any connection with the palate. The 
upper jaw is quite solid. Thus the mouth is solely devoted 
to the reception of food, and the animal is enabled to con- 
tinue its course when swimming, however rapidly, by rising 
obliquely to the surface, and exposing the top of its head 
above it. On the blow-hole being opened, the air, from 
which the oxygen has been absorbed, is expelled in a 
sudden puff, another supply is instantaneously inhaled, and 
rushes into the lungs with extreme velocity, and then the 
porpoise can either descend into the depths, or remain with 
its spiracle exposed to the air, as it may prefer. In this 
act of breathing the spiracle is normally brought above the 
water, the breath escapes, and the immediate inhalation is 
effected almost in silence. But frequently, and in some 
whales habitually, the blow-hole is opened just below the 
surface, and then the outrush of air causes a splash upwards 
of the water overlying it. 

I may here mention that I have frequently seen the 
porpoises at the Brighton Aquarium lying asleep at the 
surface, with the blow-hole exposed above it, breathing 
automatically, and without conscious effort. Aristotle was 
acquainted with this habit of the cetacea 2,200 years ago, 
for he wrote : " They sleep with the blow-hole, their organ 
of respiration, elevated above the water." 

The apparatus for closing the blow-hole, so that not a 
drop of water shall enter the windpipe, even under great 
pressure, is a beautiful contrivance, complex in its structure, 
yet most simple in its working. The external aperture is 
covered by a continuation of the skin, locally thickened, and 

F 2 



68 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

connected with a conical stopper, of a texture as tough as 
india-rubber, which fits perfectly into a cone or funnel 
formed by the extremity of the windpipe, and closes more 
and more firmly as the pressure upon it is increased. 
Whilst the orifice is thus guarded, the lower end of the 
tube is surrounded by a strong compressing muscle, which 
clasps also the glottis, and thus the passage from the blow- 
hole to the lungs is completely stopped. 

There is nothing in this which indicates the possibility of 
the spouting of water from the nostrils ; but as assertions 
that water had been seen to issue from them were positive 
and persistent, anatomists seem to have felt themselves 
obliged to try to account for it somehow. Accordingly 
the theory was propounded by F. Cuvier that the water 
taken into the mouth is reserved in two pouches (one on 
each side), until the whale rises to blow, when, the gullet 
being closed, it is forced by the action of the tongue and 
jaws through the nasal passages, somewhat as a smoker 
occasionally expels the smoke of his cigar through his 
nostrils. Although these pouches, or sacs analogous to 
them, are found at the base of the nostrils of the horse, 
tapir, etc., — animals which do not " spout " from the nostrils 
water taken in by the mouth — the explanation was accepted 
for a time. 

Mr. Bell held this opinion when the first edition of his 
'British Quadrupeds' was published in 1837, but before 
the issue of the second edition, in 1874, he had found 
reasons for taking a different view of the matter ; and, 
under the advice of his judicious editors, Mr. Alston, and 
Professor Flower (the latter of whom supervised the proofs 
of the chapters on the Cetacea) his sanction of the illusion 
was withdrawn as follows : — " The results of more recent 
and careful observations, amongst which we may notice 



THE ''SPOUTING'' OF WHALES. 69 

those of Bennett, Von Baer, Sars and Burmeister, are directly- 
opposed to the statement that water is thus ejected ; and 
there can now be no doubt that the appearance which has 
given rise to the idea is caused by the moisture with which 
the expelled breath is supercharged, which condenses at 
once in the cold outer air, and forms a cloud or column of 
white vapour. It is possible indeed that if the animal 
begins to 'blow' before its head is actually at the surface, 
the force of the rushing air may drive up some little spray 
along with it, but this is quite different from the notion that 
water is really expelled from the nasal passages. We may 
add that on the only occasion when we ourselves witnessed 
the * spouting ' of a large whale we were much struck with 
its resemblance to the column of white spray which is 
dashed up by the ricochetting ball fired from one of the 
great guns of a man-of-war." 

The simile is admirable, and nothing could better describe 
the appearance of a whale's " spout " ; but, in the previous 
portion of the passage (except with reference to the sperm 
whale, the nostrils of which are not on the top of the head), 
I think sufficient importance is not conceded to the volume 
of water propelled into the air by the outrush of breath 
from the submerged blow-hole. I do not know how many 
cubic feet of air the lungs of a great whale are capable of 
containing, but the quantity is sufficient to force up to a 
height of several feet the water above the valve when the 
latter is opened, not only in " some little spray," but, for some 
distance in a good solid jet — enough, in fact, to give the 
appearance of its actually issuing from the blow-hole, and 
to account for the erroneous belief of sailors that it does so. 
It must be remembered that the escape of air is not by a 
prolonged wheeze, but by a sudden blast, and thus when 
the spiracle is opened just beneath the surface, an instant 



70 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

before it is uncovered to take in a fresh supply of air, the 
water above its orifice is thrown up as by a sHght subaque- 
ous explosion, or as by the momentary opening under 
water of the safety-valve of a steam boiler. Some idea of 
the force and volume of the blast of air from the lungs of 
even the common porpoise may be formed when I mention 
that one of the porpoises at the Brighton Aquarium, 
happening to open its spiracle just beneath an illuminating 
gas jet fixed over its tank, blew out the light. 

In the sperm whale the nostrils are placed near the 
extremity of the nose, and therefore this whale has to raise 
its snout above the surface when it requires to breathe ; 
but instead of this being necessary, as in the case of the 
porpoise twice or thrice in a minute, the sperm whale only 
rises to " blow " at intervals of from an hour to an hour and 
twenty minutes. Mr. Beale says* that in a large bull sperm 
whale the time consumed in making one expiration and one 
inspiration is ten seconds, during six of which the nostril is 
beneath the surface of the water — the expiration occupying 
three seconds, and the inspiration one second. At each 
breathing time this whale makes from sixty to seventy 
expirations, and remains, therefore, at the surface ten or 
eleven minutes, and then, raising its tail, it descends 
perpendicularly, head first. In different individuals the 
time required for performing these several acts varies ; but 
in each they are minutely regular, and this well-known 
regularity is of considerable use to the fishers, for when a 
whaler has once noticed the periods of any particular whale 
which is not alarmed, he knows to a minute when to expect 
it to come to the surface, and how long it will remain there. 
The " spout " of the sperm whale differs much from that of 
other whales. Unlike, for instance, the straight perpen- 
* ' Natural History of the Sperm Whale.' Van Voorst, 1839. 



THE ''SPOUTING'' OF WHALES. 71 

dicular twin jets of the " right whale," the single, forward- 
slanting "spout " of the sperm whale presents a thick curled 
bush of white mist. Each whale has a different mode and 
time of breathing, and the form of the " spout " differs 
accordingly. 

It is said that the blowing of the Beluga, or "White 
Whale," is not unmusical at sea, and that when it takes 
place under water it often makes a peculiar sound which 
might be mistaken for the whistling of a bird. Hence is 
derived one of the names given to this'whale by sailors — the 
" Sea-canaiy." Though I have had opportunities of 
attentively watching the breathing and other actions in 
captivity of two specimens of this whale I have never been 
able to detect the sound alluded to. 

Besides the opinions cited by Mr. Bell concerning whales, 
spouting water from their blow-holes, we have other 
evidence which is most clear and definite, and which ought 
to be convincing. 

We will take first that of Mr. Beale, who as surgeon on 
board the " Kent " and " Sarah and Elizabeth," South Sea 
whalers, passed several seasons amongst sperm whales. 
He says : — >" I can truly say when I find myself in opposi- 
tion to these old and received notions, that out of the 
thousands of sperm whales which I have seen during my 
wanderings in the South and North Pacific Oceans, I have 
never observed one of them to eject a column of water from 
the nostril. I have seen them at a distance, and I have 
been within a few yards of several hundreds of them, and 
I never saw water pass from the spout-hole. But the 
column of thick and dense vapour which is certainly 
ejected is exceedingly likely to mislead the judgment of 
the casual observer in these matters ; and this column does 
indeed appear very much like a jet of water when seen at 



72 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

the distance of one or two miles on a clear day, because of 
the condensation of the vapour which takes place the 
moment it escapes from the nostril, and its consequent 
opacity, which makes it appear of a white colour, and 
which is not observed when the whale is close to the spec- 
tator. It then appears only like a jet of white steam. 
The only water in addition is the small quantity that may 
be lodged in the external fissure of the spout hole, when 
the animal raises it above the surface to breathe, and which 
is blown up into the air with the ' spout,' and may pro- 
bably assist in condensing the vapour of which it is 
formed. ... I have been also very close to the Balcsjia 
mysticetus (the Greenland, or Right whale) when it has been 
feeding and breathing, and yet I never saw even that 
animal differ in the latter respect from the sperm whale in 
the nature of the spout. ... If the weather is fine and 
clear, and there is a gentle breeze at the time, the spout 
may be seen from the masthead of a moderate-sized vessel 
at the distance of four or five miles." 

Captain Scoresby, who was a veteran and successful 
whaler, a good zoologist, and a highly intelligent observer, 
says : — " A moist vapour mixed with mucus is discharged 
from the nostrils when the animal breathes ; but no water 
accompanies it unless an expiration of the breath be made 
under the surface." 

Dr. Robert Brown, who communicated to the Zoological 
Society, in May, 1868, a valuable series of observations on 
the mammals of Greenland, made during his voyages to the 
Spitzbergen, Iceland, and Jan Mayen Seas, and along the 
eastern and western shores of Davis's Strait and Baffin's 
Bay to near the mouth of Smith's Sound, remarks, in a 
chapter on the Right whale {Balcena mysticetus) : — " The 
* blowing,' so familiar a feature of the Cetacea, but especi- 



THE "SPOUTING'' OF WHALES. 73 

ally of the Mysticetics is, quite analogous to the breathing 
of the higher mammals, and the blow-holes are the homo- 
logues of the nostrils. It is most erroneously stated that 
the whale ejects water from the blow-holes. I have been 
many times only a few feet from a whale when 'blowing/ 
and, though purposely observing it, could never see that it 
ejected from its nostrils anything but the ordinary breath — 
a fact which might almost have been deduced from analogy. 
In the cold arctic air this breath is generally condensed, and 
falls upon those close at hand in the form of a den se spray 
which may have led seamen to suppose that this vapour 
was originally ejected in the form of water. Occasionally, 
when the whale blows just as it is rising out of or sinking in 
the sea, a little of the superincumbent water may be forced 
upwards by the column of breath. When the whale is 
wounded in the lungs, or in any of the blood-vessels immedi- 
ately supplying them, blood, as might be expected, is 
ejected in the death-throes along with the breath. When 
the whaleman sees his prey 'spouting red,' he concludes 
that its end is not far distant ; it is then mortally wounded." 

Captain F. C. Hall, the commander of the unfortunate 
" Polaris " Expedition, thus describes, in his * Life with the 
Esquimaux,' the spout of a whale : — " What this blowing is 
like," he says, "may be described by asking if the reader 
has ever seen the smoke produced by the firing of an old- 
fashioned flint-lock. If so, then he may understand the 
' blow ' of a whale — a flash in the pan and all is over." 

Captain Scammon, an experienced American whaling 
captain, who, like Scoresby, could wield well both harpoon 
and pen, in his fine work on ' The ]\Iarine ]\Iammals of the 
North-Western Coast of America,' writes to the same 

effect. 

Mr. Herman Melville, who is not a naturalist, but 
has served before the mast in a sperm-whaler and borne 



74 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

his part in all the hardships and dangers of the chase, 
writes, in his remarkable book, ' The Whale ' : — ' As for 
this * whale-spout ' you might almost stand in it, and yet be 
undecided as to what it is precisely. Nor is it at all prudent 
for the hunter to be over curious respecting it. For, even 
when coming into slight contact with the outer vapoury 
shreds of the jet, which will often happen, your skin will 
feverishly smart from the acrimony of the thing so touching 
you. And I know one who, coming into still closer 
contact with the spout — whether with some scientific 
object in view or otherwise I cannot say — the skin peeled 
ofFfrom his cheek and arm. Wherefore, among whalemen, 
the spout is deemed poisonous ; they try to evade it. I 
have heard it said, and I do not much doubt it, that if the 
jet were fairly spouted into your eyes it would blind you." 

The only other eye-witness I will cite is Mr. Bartlett, of 
the Zoological Gardens, whose experience and accuracy as 
an observer of the habits of animals is unsurpassed. He 
spent an autumn holiday in accompanying the late Mr. 
Frank Buckland and his colleagues, Messrs. Walpole and 
Young, in a tour of inquiry into the condition of the 
herring fishery in Scotland. When the commissioners 
left Peterhead, he remained there for a few days as the 
guest of Captain David Gray, of the steam whaler, 
" Eclipse," and as it was reported that large whales had 
been seen in the offing, his host invited him to go in search 
of them, and pay them a visit in his steam-launch. When 
about twelve miles out, they saw the whales, which were 
" finners," at a distance of four or five miles. Fourteen 
were counted — all large ones — some of which were seventy 
feet in length. On approaching them the captain shut off 
steam, and the launch was allowed to float in amongst 
them. So close were they to the boat that it would not 
have been difficult to jump upon the back of one of them 



THE "SPOUTING'' OF WHALES. 75 

had that been desirable. Mr. Bartlett tells me that he was 
greatly astonished by the immense force of the sudden out- 
rush of air from their blow-holes, and the noise by which it 
was accompanied. He believes that the blast was strong 
enough to blow a man off the spiracle if he were seated on 
it. He authorizes me to say that having seen and watched 
these whales under such favourable circumstances, he 
entirely agrees with all that I have here written concerning 
the so-called " spout." The volume of hot, vaporous breath 
expelled is enormous, and this is accompanied by no small 
quantity of water, forced up by it when the blow-hole is 
opened below the surface. 

An effect similar in appearance to the whale's spout is 
produced by the breathing of the hippopotamus. When 
this great beast opens its nostrils beneath the surface, 
water and spray are driven and scattered upward by the 
force of the air, but, of course, do not issue from the nasal 
passages. I have, also, seen this effect produced, though 
in a less degree, by the breathing of sea-lions. 

I repeat, therefore, that not a drop of sea-water enters or 
passes out of the blow-hole of a whale. If the spiracle 
valve were in a condition to allow it to do so the animal 
would soon be drowned. Everyone knows the extreme 
irritation and the horrible feeling of suffocation caused to 
a human being, whilst eating or drinking, by a crumb or a 
little liquid " going the wrong way " — that is, being acci- 
dentally drawn to the air-passages instead of passing to the 
oesophagus. If water were to enter the bronchi of a whale 
it would instantly produce similar discomfort. 

The neck of a popular error is hard to break ; but it is 
time that one so palpable as that concerning the " spout- 
ing " of whales should cease to be promulgated and dis- 
seminated by fanciful illustrations of instructive books. 



76 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



THE "SAILING" OF THE NAUTILUS. 

One of the prettiest fables of the sea is that relating to the 
Paper Nautilus, the constructor and inhabitant of the 
delicate and beautiful shell which looks as if it were made 
of ivory no thicker than a sheet of writing paper. 




FIG, 27. — THE PAPER NAUTILUS {Af-gOliauta argo) SAILING 



It is an old belief that in calm weather it rises from the 
bottom of the sea, and, elevating its two broadly-expanded 
arms, spreads to the gentle air, as a sail, the membrane, 
light as a spider's web, by which they are united ; and that. 



THE ''SAILING'' OF THE NAUTILUS. 77 

seated in its boat-like shell, it thus floats over the smooth 
surface of the ocean, steering and paddling with its other 
arms. Should storm arise or danger threaten, its masts 
and sail are lowered, its oars laid in, and the frail craft, 
filling with water, sinks gently beneath the waves. 

When and where this picturesque idea originated I am 
unable to discover. It dates far back beyond the range 
of history ; for Aristotle mentions it, and, unfortunately, 
sanctioned it. With the weight of his honoured name in 
its favour, this fallacy has maintained its place in popular 
belief, even to our own times ; for the mantle of the great 
father of natural history, who was generally so marvellously 
correct, fell on none of his successors ; Pliny, and .^lian, 
and the tribe of compilers who succeeded them, having been 
more concerned to make their histories sensational than to 
verify their statements. 

Naturally, the Paper Nautilus has been the subject of many 
a poet's verses. Oppian wrote of it in his ' Halieutics ' : — 

" Sail-fish in secret, silent deeps reside, 
In shape and nature to the preke * allied ; 
Close in their concave sheUs their bodies wrap, 
Avoid the waves and every storm escape. 
But not to mirksome depths alone confined ; 
When pleasing calms have stilled the sighing wind, 
Curious to know what seas above contain, 
They leave the dark recesses of the main ; 
Now, wanton, to the changing surface haste, 
View clearer skies, and the pure welkin taste. 
But slow they, cautious, rise, and, prudent, fear 
The upper region of the watery sphere ; 
Backward they mount, and as the stream o'erflows. 
Their convex shells to pressing floods oppose. 
Conscious, they know that, should they forward move, 
O'ervvhelming waves would sink them from above, 

* The octopus. 



78 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

Fill the void space, and with the rushing weight, 

Force down th' inconstants to their former seat. 

"When, first arrived, they feel the stronger blast. 

They lie supine and skim the liquid waste. < 

The natural barks out-do all human art 

When skilful floaters play the sailor's part. 

Two feet they upward raise, and steady keep"; 

These are the masts and rigging of the ship : 

A membrane stretch'd between supplies the sail. 

Bends from the masts, and swells before the gale. 

Two other feet hang paddling on each side. 

And serve for oars to row and helm to guide. 

'Tis thus they sail, pleased with the wanton game, 

The fish, the sailor, and the ship, the same. 

But when the swimmers dread some dangers near 

The sportive pleasure yields to stronger fear. 

No more they, wanton, drive before the blasts. 

But strike the sails, and bring down all the masts ; 

The rolling waves their sinking shells o'erflow, 

And dash them down again to sands below." 

Montgomery also thus exquisitely paraphrases the same 
idea in his * Pelican Island ' : — 

" Light as a flake of foam upon the wind. 
Keel upwards, from the deep emerged a shell. 
Shaped like the moon ere half her orb is filled. 
Fraught with young life, it righted as it rose. 
And moved at will along the yielding water. 
The native pilot of this little bark 
Put out a tier of oars on either side. 
Spread to the wafting breeze a twofold sail, 
And mounted up, and glided down, the billows 
In happy freedom, pleased to feel the air, 
And wander in the luxury of light." 

Byron mentions the Nautilus in his 'Mutiny of the 

Bounty ' as follows : — 

" The tender Nautilus, who steers his prow, 
The sea-born sailor of his shell canoe. 
The ocean Mab — the fairy of the sea. 
Seems far less fragile, and alas ! more free. 



THE ''SAILING'' OF THE NAUTILUS. 79 

He, when the hghtning-winged tornadoes sweep 
The surge, is safe : his port is in the deep ; 
And triumphs o'er the armadas of mankind 
Which shake the world, yet crumble in the wind." 

The very names by which this animal is known to the 
science which some persons erroneously think must be so 
hard and dry are poetic. In Aristotle's day it was called 
the Naiitihis or Nautic?is, " the mariner," and though two 
thousand two hundred years have passed since the great 
master wrote, the name still clings to it. As the Pearly 
Nautilus, a very different animal, also bears that name, 
Gualtieri perceived the necessity of distinguishing the Paper 
Nautilus from it, and was followed by Linnseus, who there- 
fore entitled the genus to which the latter belongs, 
Argonauta, after the ship Argo, in which Jason and his 
companions sailed to Colchis to carry off the "Golden 
Fleece " suspended there in the temple of Mars, and 
guarded by brazen-hoofed bulls, whose nostrils breathed 
out fire and death, and by a watchful dragon that never 
slept. According to the Greek legend, the Argo was 
named after its builder Argus, the son of Danaus, and was 
the first ship that ever was built. Oppian (' Halieutics,' 
book I.) expresses his opinion that the Nautilus served as 
a model for the man who first conceived the idea of con- 
structing a ship, and embarking on the waters : — 

" Ye Powers ! when man first felled the stately trees, 
And passed to distant shores on wafting seas, 
Whether some god inspired the wondrous thought, 
Or chance found out, or careful study sought ; 
If humble guess may probably divine. 
And trace th' improvement to the first design, 
Some wight of prying search, who wond'ring stood 
When softer gales had smoothed the dimpled flood, 
Observed these careless swimmers floating move, 
And how each blast the easy sailor drove ; 



8o SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

Hence took the hint, hence formed th' imperfect draught, 

And ship-hke fish the future seaman taught. 

Then mortals tried the shelving hull to slope, 

To raise the mast, and twist the stronger rope, 

To fix the yards, let fly the crowded sails, 

Sweep through the curling waves, and court auspicious gales." 

Pope, too, in his * Essay on Man ' (Ep. 3), adopted the 
idea in his exhortation — 

" Learn of the little Nautilus to sail, 
Spread the thin oar, and catch the driving gale." 

Poetry, like the wizard's spell, can make 

" A nutshell seem a gilded barge, 
A sheeling seem a palace large," 

but the equally enchanting wand of science is able by a 
touch to dispel the illusion, and cause the object to appear 
in its true proportions. So with the fiction of the " Paper 
Sailor." 

I have elsewhere described the affinities of the Nautili 
and their place in nature, therefore it will only be necessary 
for me here to allude to these very briefly, to explain the 
great and essential difference that exists between the two 
kinds of Nautilus which are popularly regarded as being 
one and the same animal. 

The Pearly Nautilus {Nautilus pompilius) and the 
Argonaut, which from having a fragile shell of somewhat 
similar external form is called the Paper Nautilus, both 
belong to that great primary group of animals known as 
the Molhisca, and to the class of it called the Cephalopoda, 
from their having their head in the middle of that which is 
the foot in other mollusks. In the Cephalopoda the foot is 
split or divided into eight segments in some families, and 
in others into ten segments, which radiate from the central 
head, like so many rays. These rays are not only used as 



THE ''SAILING'' OF THE NAUTILUS. 8i 

feet, but, being highly flexible, are adapted for employment 

also as prehensile arms, with which their owner captures 

its prey, and they are rendered more perfect for this purpose 

by being furnished with suckers which hold firmly to any 

surface to which they are applied. The Cephalopods 

which have the foot divided into ten of these segments or 

arms are called the Decapoda, those which have only eight 

of them are called the Octopoda. All of these have tivo 

plume-like gills — one on each side — and so are called 

DibrancJiiata ; and in the eight-armed section of these is the 

argonaut or Paper Nautilus. Of the Pearly Nautilus and 

the four-gilled order I shall have more to say by-and-by : 

at present we will follow the history of the argonaut. 

Notwithstanding all that has 

been written of it, it is only 

within the last fifty years 

that this has been correctly 

understood. An eight-armed 

cuttle was recognised and named 

OcytJioc, which, instead of hav- '*"-"»-'-^^^.^^ 

ing, like the common octopus, ^^c;. 28.-THE paper nautilus 

{Argonauta argo) retrac- 

all of Its eight arms thong-like ted wrrniN its shell. 
and tapering to a point, had 

the two dorsal limbs flattened into a broad thin mem- 
brane. Although this animal was sometimes seen dead 
without any covering, it Avas generally found contained in 
a thin and slightly elastic univalve shell of graceful form, 
and bearing some resemblance to an elegantly shaped boat. 
It did not penetrate to the bottom of this shell ; it was not 
attached to it by any muscular ligament, nor was the shell 
moulded on its body, nor apparently made to fit it. Hence 
it was long regarded as doubtful, and even by naturalists so 
recent and eminent as Dumeril and De Blainvillc, whether 

G 




82 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

the octopod really secreted the shell, or whether, like the 
hermit-crab, it borrowed for its protection the shell of some 
other mollusk. Aristotle left the subject with the faithful 
acknowledgment : " As to the origin and growth of this 
shell nothing is yet exactly determined. It appears to be 
produced like other shells ; but even this is not evident, 
any more than it is whether the animal can live without it." 
Pliny, as usual, instead of throwing light on the matter, 
obscured it. He regarded the shell as the property of a 
gasteropod like the snail, and the octopod as an amateur 
yachtsman who occasionally went on board and took a trip 
in the frail craft, and assisted its owner to navigate it for the 
fun of the thing. This is what he says about it * : 
"Mutianus reports that he saw in the Propontis a .shell 
formed like a little ship, having the poop turned up and 
the prow pointed. An animal called the Naiipliiis, re- 
sembling an octopus, was enclosed in the shell with its 
owner, for its amusement in the following manner. When 
the sea is calm the guest lowers his arms, and uses them as 
oars and a helm, whilst the owner of the shell expands 
himself to catch the wind ; so that one has the pleasure of 
carrying and sailing, and the other of steering. Thus, these 
two otherwise senseless animals take their pleasure together ; 
but the meeting them sailing in their shell is a bad omen 
for mariners, and foretells some great calamity." 

Although the animal was never found in any other shell, and 
the shell was never known to contain any other animal, and 
though, when the shell and the animal were found together 
they were always of proportionate size, this octopod, as I have 
said, was looked upon by some conchologists as a pirate who 
had taken possession of a ship which did not belong to him, 
until Madame Jeannette Power, a French lady then 
* Naturalis Historia, lib. ix. cap. 30. 



THE ''SAILING'' OF THE NAUTILUS. 83 

residing in Messina, having succeeded in keeping alive for a 
time an argonaut the shell of which had been broken in its 
capture, discovered that the animal quickly repaired the 
fracture, and reproduced the portions that had been broken 
off. Induced by this to make further experiments, she 
kept a number of living argonauts in cages sunk in the 
sea near the citadel of Messina, and in 1836 laid before 
the " Academy " at Catania the following results of her 
observations of them : — 

1st. That the argonaut constructs the shell which it 
inhabits. 

2nd. That it quits the Q:^g entirely naked, and forms the 
shell after its birth, 

3rd. That it can repair its shell, if necessary, by a fresh 
deposit of material having the same chemical composition 
as its original shell. 

4th. That this material is secreted by the palmate, or 
sail, arms, and is laid on the outside of the shell, to the 
exterior of which these membranous arms are closely 
applied. 

Madame Power was mistaken on two points. Firstly, 
the construction of the shell does not commence after the 
birth of the animal, but, as has been shown by M. 
Duvernoy, its rudimentary form is distinctly visible by the 
aid of the microscope in the embryo, whilst still in the 
&gg ; and secondly, she continued to believe in the use of 
the membranous arms as sails, and of the others as oars. 
This fallacy was exploded by Captain Sander Rang, an 
officer of the French navy, and " port-captain " at Algiers, 
who carefully followed up Madame Power's experiments, 
and confirmed the more important of them. Thus were 
set at rest questions which for centuries had divided the 
opinions of zoologists. 

G 2 



84 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

The " Paper Nautilus " is, in fact, a female octopod 
provided with a portable nest, in which to carry about and 
protect her eggs, instead of brooding over them in some 
cranny of a rock, or within the recesses of a pile of shells, 
as does her cousin the octopus. From the membranes of 
the two flattened and expanded arms she secretes and, if 
necessary, repairs her shell, and by applying them closely 
to its outer surface on each side, holds herself within it, for 
it is not fastened to her body by any attaching muscles. 
When disturbed or in danger she can loosen her hold, and, 
leaving her cradle, swim away independently of it. It 
has been said that, having once left it, she has not the 
ability nor perhaps the sagacity to re-enter her nest, and 
resume the guardianship of her eggs."* From my own 
observations of the breeding habits of other octopods I 
think this most improbable. The use and purpose of the 
shell of the argonaut will be better understood if I briefly 
describe what I have witnessed of the treatment of its eggs 
by its near relative, the octopus. 

" The eggs of the octopus," as I have elsewhere said, " when 
first laid, are small, oval, translucent granules, resembling 
little grains of rice, not quite an eighth of an inch long. 
They grow along and around a common stalk, to which 
every egg is separately attached, as grapes form part of a 
bunch. Each of the elongated bunches is affixed by a 
glutinous secretion to the surface of a rock or stone (never 
to seaweed, as has been erroneously stated), and hangs 
pendent by its stalk in a long white cluster, like a magni- 
fied catkin of the filbert, or, to use Aristotle's simile, like 
the fruit of the white alder. The length and number of 
these bunches varies according to the size and condition of 

* Appendix to Sir Edward Belcher's 'Voyage of the " Samarang,"' 
by Mr. Arthur Adanis, assistant surgeon to the expedition. 



THE '''SAILING" OF THE NAUTILUS. 85 

the parent. Those produced by a small octopus are 
seldom more than about three inches long, and from 
twelve to twenty in number ; but a full-grown female will 
deposit from forty to fifty of such clusters, each about five 
inches in length. I have counted the eggs of which these 
clusters are composed, and find that there are about a 
thousand in each : so that a large octopus produces in one 
laying, usually extended over three days, a progeny of from 
40,000 to 50,000. I have seen an octopus, when undisturbed, 
pass one of her arms beneath the hanging bunches of her 
eggs, and, dilating the membrane on each side of it into a 
boat-shaped hollow, gather and receive them in it as in a 
trough or cradle which exhibited in its general shape and 
outline a remarkable similarity to the shell of the argonaut, 
with the eggs of which octopod its own are almost identical 
in form and ap2:)carance. Then she would caress and 
gently rub them, occasionally turning towards them the 
mouth of her flexible exhalent and locomotor tube, like 
the nozzle of a fireman's hose-pipe, so as to direct upon 
them a jet of the excurrent water. I believe that the 
object of this syringing process is to free the eggs from 
parasitic animalcules, and possibly to prevent the growth 
of conferva, which, I have found, rapidly overspreads those 
removed from her attention." * 

It has been suggested that the syringing may be for the 
purpose of keeping the water surrounding the eggs well 
aerated ; but this is evidently erroneous, for the water 
ejected from the tube has been previously deprived of its 
oxygen, and consequently of its health-giving properties, 
whilst passing over the gills of the parent. Week after 
week, for fifty days, a brooding octopus will continue to 
attend to her eggs with the most watchful and assiduous 
* ' The Octopus,' 1873, P- 57- 



86 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



care, seldom leaving them for an instant except to take 
food, which, without a brief abandonment of her position, 
would be beyond her reach. Aristotle asserted that while 
the female is incubating she takes no food. This is 
incorrect ; but in every case of the kind that has come 
under my observation the mother octopod, whenever she 
has been obliged to leave her nest, has returned to it as 
quickly as possible ; and so I believe can, and does, the 
female argonaut to her shell, and that, too, without any 
difficulty. In her case the numerous clusters of eggs are all 
united at their origin to one slender and tapering stalk 



>^' 




FIG. 29. — THE PAPER NAUTILUS {Argottauta argo) CRAWLING. 



which is fixed by a spot of glutinous matter to the body- 
whorl of the spiral shell. 

This " paper-sailor," then, whom the poets have regarded 
as endowed with so much grace and beauty, and living 
in luxurious ease, is but a fine lady octopus after all. 
Turn her out of her handsome residence, and, instead 
of the fairy skimmer of the seas, you have before you an 
object apparently as free from loveliness and romance as 
her sprawling, uncanny-looking, relative. Instead of floating 
in her pleasure boat over the surface of the sea, the 
argonaut ordinarily crawls along the bottom, carrying her 
shell above her, keel uppermost ; and the broad extremities 
of the two arms are not hoisted as sails, nor allowed when 



THE '-'SAILING'' OF THE NAUTILUS. 87 

at rest to dangle over the side of the " boat ; " but are used 
as a kind of hood by which the animal retains the shell in 
its proper position, as a man bearing a load on his shoulders 
holds it with his hands. When she comes to the surface, 
or progresses by swimming instead of walking, she does so 
in the same manner as the octopus: namely, by the forcible 
expulsion of water from her funnel-like tube. 

But if truth compels us to deprive her of the counterfeit 
halo conferred on her by poets, we can award her, on behalf 
of science, a far nobler crown ; namely, that of the Queen 
of the whole great Invertebrate Animal Kingdom. For, 
the Cephalopoda, of which the argonaut is a highly 




FIG. 30. — THE PAPER NAUTILUS {ArgOfiauta argo) SWIMMING. 

organised member, are not only the highest in their own 
division, the Mollusca, but they are as far superior to all 
other animals which have no backbones, as man stands 
lord and king over all created beings that possess them. 

Although in outward shape the spiral shell of the Pearly 
Nautilus {Nautilus poiupiliiis) somewhat resembles that of 
the argonaut, its internal structure is very different. A 
section of it shows that it is divided into several chambers, 
each of which is partitioned off from the adjoining ones, the 
last formed or external one, in which the animal lives, being 
much larger than the rest. The object and mode of 
construction of these chambers is as follows. As the 
animal grows, a constant secretion of new material takes 
place on the edge of the shell. By this unceasing process 



88 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

of the addition of new shell in the form of a circular curve 
or coil around the older portion, the whole rapidly increases 
in size, both in diameter, and in the length of the chamber. 
The Nautilus, requiring to keep the secreting portion of its 
mantle applied to the lip of the shell, finds the chamber in 
which it dwells gradually becoming inconveniently long for 
it, and therefore builds up a wall behind itself, and continues 
its work of enlarging its premises in front. Each of these 
walls, concave in front, towards the mouth of the shell, and 




' FIG. 31. — SHELL OF THE PAPER NAUTILUS {ArgOtiaitla Orgo). 

concave behind, acts as a strong girder and support of the 
arch of the shell against the inward pressure of deep water : 
and it was formerly supposed that each successive chamber 
so constructed and vacated remained filled with air, and 
th7ts became an additional float by which the constantly 
increasing weight of the growing shell was counter-balanced. 
By this beautiful adjustment of augmented floating power to 
increased weight, the buoyancy of the shell would be secured 
and its specific gravity maintained as nearly as possible equal 
to that of the surrounding water. This adjustment does 



THE ''SAILING'' OF THE NAUTILUS. 



89 



probably take place, but in a somewhat different manner. 
As the Nautilus inhabits a depth of from twenty to forty 
fathoms, it is evident that the air within its shell would 
be displaced by the pressure of such a column of water.* 
Accordingly, in every instance of the capture of a Nautilus 
the chambers of its shell have been found filled with water. 
It is not improbable that the fluid they contain may be less 
compressed, and exert less pressure from within outwards 




m:e 



FIG. 32. — SHELL OF THE PEARLY NAUTILUS {NautiltlS pOIUpUius). 

than that of the external superincumbent column of water, 
and that by this unbalanced pressure — under the same 



* "At 100 fathoms the pressure exceeds 265 lbs. to the square inch. 
Empty bottles, securely corked, and sunk with weights beyond 100 
fathoms, are always crushed. If filled with liquid the cork is driven 
in, and the liquid replaced by salt water ; and in drawing the bottle up 
again the cork is returned to the neck of the bottle, generally in a 
reversed position." — Sir F. Beaufort, quoted by Dr. S. P. Woodward 
in his ' Manual of the Mollusca.' 



go 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



hydro-dynamic law which governs its mode of self-propulsion 
when swimming, and possibly in some degree within the 
control of the animal — the latter is relieved of much of the 
weight of its shell. When the Nautilus is at the bottom of 
the sea its movement is like that of a snail crawling along 




FIG. ■^^. — THE PEARLY NAUTILUS [Nautilus pompiUus], AND SECTION OF 

ITS SHELL. After Professor Owen. 

a a, Partitions; b b, chambers; b', the last-formed chamber, in which the 
animal lives ; c c, the siphuncle ; d, attaching muscle ; e e, the hollow 
arms ; ff, retractile tentacles ; g, muscular disk, or foot ; //, the eye ; /, 
position of funnel. 

Upon the ground with its shell above it. The shell, in 
proportion to the" size of the animal that inhabits it, is a 
heavy one, and unless it were rendered semi-buoyant, its 
owner's strength would be severely taxed by the effort to 
drag it along. By the means indicated this portable 



THE "SAILING'' OF THE NAUTILUS. 91 

domicile is borne lightly above the body of the Nautilus, 
without in any way impeding its progress. 

The chambers are all connected by a membranous tube 
slightly coated with nacre, which is connected with a large 
sac in the body of the animal, near the heart, and passes 
through a circular orifice and a short projecting tube in the 
centre of each partition wall, till it ends in the smallest 
chamber at the inner extremity of the shell. Dean 
Buckland believed this " syphon " to be an hydraulic ap- 
paratus acting as a " fine adjustment " of the specific gravity 
of the shell, by admitting water within it when expanded, 
and excluding it when contracted. As it contains an 
artery and vein near its origin at the mantle. Professor 
Owen has regarded it as subservient to the maintenance of 
a low vitality in the vacated portion of the shell. Dr. 
Henry Woodward is of the opinion that, whilst in the 
early life of the Nautilus this siphuncle forms the main 
point of attachment between the animal and its shell, it 
is in the adult " simply an aborted embryonal organ whose 
function is now filled by the shell-muscles, but which in the 
more ancient and straight-shelled representatives of the 
group (the Orthoceratites) was not merely an embryonal 
but an important organ in the adult." 

Every one knows the shell of the Pearly Nautilus. It 
may be purchased at any shell-shop in a seaside watering- 
place, and is imported by hundreds every year from 
Singapore.* It is abundant in the waters of the Indian 
Archipelago, especially about the Molucca and Philippine 
Islands, and on the shores of New Caledonia and the Fiji 

* I need hardly say that before the nacreous layer of the shell 
from which this animal takes its name is made visible, an outer deposit 
of dense calcareous matter has to be removed by hydrochloric acid : 
the pearly surface thus exposed is then easily polished. 



92 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

and Solomon Islands. It has also been found alive on 
Pemba Island, near Zanzibar. It seems strange, therefore, 
that until about half a centuiy ago hardly anything was 
known of the animal that secretes and inhabits it. Rum- 
phius, a Dutch naturalist, in his ' Rarities of Amboyna,' 
published, in 1705, a description of one with an engraving, 
incorrect in drawing, and deficient in detail ; and until 1832 
tliis was the only information which existed concerning it. 
The great Cuvier never saw one, and being acquainted only 
with the two-gilled cephalopods, he regarded the head- 
footed mollusks as absolutely isolated from all other 
animals in the kingdom of nature, even from the other 
classes of the mollusca. It seemed, however, to Professor 
Owen, then only nineteen years of age, that in the only 
living representative of the four-gilled order. Nautilus 
povipiliuSy might be found the "missing link." When, 
therefore, in the year 1824, his fellow-student, Mr. George 
Bennett, was about to sail from England to the Polynesian 
Islands, young Richard Owen earnestly charged his friend 
to do his utmost to obtain, and bring home in alcohol, a 
specimen of the much-coveted Pearly Nautilus. The 
opportunity did not occur till one warm and calm Monday 
evening, the 24th of August, 1829, when a living Nautilus 
was seen at the surface of the water not far distant from 
the ship, in Marekini Bay, on the south-west coast of the 
Island of Erromango, New Hebrides, in the South Pacific 
Ocean. It looked like a dead tortoise-shell cat, as the 
sailors said. As it began to sink as soon as it was 
observed, it was struck at with a boat-hook, and was thus 
so much injured that it died shortly after being taken on 
board the ship. The shell was destroyed, but the soft 
body of the animal was preserved in spirits, and great was 
the joy of Mr. Owen when, in July, 1 831, Mr. Bennett 



THE ''SAILING'' OF THE NAUTILUS. 93 

arrived with it in England, and presented it to the Royal 
College of Surgeons. Mr. Owen was then Assistant- 
Conservator of the Museum of the College under Mr. Clift, 
who was afterwards his father-in-law. He immediately 
commenced to anatomise, describe, and figure his rare 
acquisition, and in the early part of 1832 published the 
result of his work in the form of a masterly treatise, which 
proved to be the foundation of his future fame.* 

Mr. Owen's investigations confirmed his previous sup- 
position that the Pearly Nautilus is inferior in its organisa- 
tion to octopus, sepia, or any other known cephalopod ; 
that it is not isolated, but that it recedes towards the 
gasteropods, to which belong the snail, the periwinkle, &c., 
and that in some of its characters its structure is analo- 

* It is so interesting to most of us to know something of the early- 
work of our greatest men, and of the tide in their affairs, which, 
taken at the flood, led on to fortune, that I hope I may be excused for 
referring to the period when the distinguished chief of the Natural 
History Department of the British Museum, the great comparative 
anatomist, the unrivalled palseontologist, the illustrious physiologist, 
the venerable and venerated friend of all earnest students, was be- 
ginning to attract the attention, and to receive the approbation of his 
seniors as a promising young worker. In Messrs. Griffith and Pidgeon's 
Supplement to Cuvier's ' Mollusca and Radiata,' published in 1834, the 
treatise in question is thus mentioned : " We have much pleasure in re- 
ferring to a most excellent memoir on Nautilus pompilius^h^M^v. Owen, 
with elaborate figures of the animal, its shell, and various parts, pub- 
lished by direction of the Council of the College of Surgeons. The 
reader will find the most satisfactory information on the subject, and 
the scientific public will earnestly hope that the present volume will be 
the first of a similar series." This hope has been more than fulfilled. 
Dean Buckland, in his ' Bridgewater Treatise,' wrote of this work : " I 
rejoice in the present opportunity of bearing testimony to the value of 
Professor Owen's highly philosophical and most admirable memoir— 
a work not less creditable to the author than honourable to the Royal 
College of Surgeons, under whose auspices the publication has been so 
handsomely conducted." 



94 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

gously related to the still lower ajinulosa, or worms. Mr. 
Owen was just about to start for Paris with the intention 
of presenting a copy of his book to his celebrated contem- 
porary and friend, and of showing him his dissections of the 
Nautilus which had been the subject of his research, when 
he heard of Baron Cuvier's death. It must have been to 
him a great sorrow and a grievous disappointment. 

The Pearly Nautilus, then, is a true cephalopod, in 
that it has its foot divided and arranged in segments around 
its head, but the form and number of these segments are 
very different from those of any other of its class. Instead of 
there being eight, as in the argonaut and octopus, or ten, as in 
sepia and the calamaries, the Nautilus has about ninety 
projecting in every direction from around the mouth. They 
are short, round, and tapering, of about the length and thick- 
ness of the fingers of a child. Some of them are retractile 
into sheaths, and they are attached to fleshy processes 
(which might represent the child's hand), overlying each other, 
and covering the mouth on each side. They have none 
of the suckers with which the arms and tentacles of all the 
other cuttles are furnished, but their annulose structure, 
like the rings of an earthworm's body, gives them some 
little prehensile power. None of these numerous finger- 
like segments of the foot are flattened out like the broad 
membranous expansions of the argonaut, and, in fact, the 
Nautilus is without any members which can possibly be 
regarded as sails to hoist, or as oars with which to row. 
It has a strong beak, like the rest of the cuttles ; but it has 
no ink-sac, for its shell is strong enough to afford it the 
protection which its two-gilled relatives have to seek in 
concealment. 

The Pearly Nautilus usually creeps, like a snail, along 
the bed of the sea. It lives at the bottom, and feeds 



THE ''SAILING'' OF THE NAUTILUS. 95 

at the bottom, principally on crabs ; and, as Dr. S. P. 
Woodward says, in his 'Manual of the Mollusca,' "perhaps 
often lies in wait for them, like some gigantic sea-anemone, 
with outspread tentacles." The shape of its shell is not 
well adapted for swimming, but it can ascend to the surface, 
if it so please, in the same manner as can all the cuttles — 
namely, by the outflow of water from its locomotor tube. 
The statement that it visits the surface of the sea of its own 
accord is at present, however, unconfirmed by observation. 
But, if the Pearly Nautilus is the inferior and poor rela- 
tion of the argonaut, it lives in a handsome house, and 
comes of an ancient lineage. The Ammonites, whose 
beautiful whorled and chambered shells, and the casts of 
them, are so abundant in every stratum, especially in the 
lias, the chalk, and the oolite, had four gills also. These 
Ammonites and the Nautili were amongst the earliest 
occupants of the ancient deep ; and, with the Hamites, 
Turrilites, and others, lived upon our earth during a great 
portion of the incalculable period which has elapsed since 
it became fitted for animal existence, and in their time 
witnessed the rise and fall of many an animal dynasty. 
But they are gone now ; and only the fossil relics of more 
than two thousand species (of which 188 were Nautili) 
remain to tell how important a race they were amongst the 
inhabitants of the old world seas. They and their con- 
geners of the chambered shells, however, left one represen- 
tative which has lived on through all the changes that have 
taken place on the surface of this globe since they became 
extinct — namely, Nautilus povipiliits, the Nautilus of the 
pearly shell — the last of the Tetrabranchs. 

I need offer no apology for endeavouring to explain the 
difference between the Nautilus of the chambered shell and 
the argonaut with the membranous arms which it was 



96 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

supposed to use as sails, when Webster, in his fjrcat stan- 
dard dictionary, describes the one and figures the other as 
one and the same animal ; and when a writer of the cele- 
brity of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes also blends the two in 
the following poem, containing a sentiment as exquisite as 
its science is erroneous. I hope the latter distinguished 
and accomplished author, whose delightful writings I enjoy 
and highly appreciate, will pardon my criticism. I admit 
that the beauty of the thought might well atone for its in- 
accuracy, (of which the author is conscious,) were it not that 
the latter is made so attractive that truth appears harsh 
in disturbing it, 

"THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS." 

" This is the ship of pearl, which poets feign 

Sails the unshadowed main, 

The venturous bark that flings 
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings, 
In gulfs enchanted, where the siren sings. 

And coral reefs lie bare, 
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair. 

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl, 

Wrecked is the ship of pearl ! 

And every chambered cell. 
Where its dim, dreaming life was wont to dwell, 
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell, 

Before thee lies revealed, 
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed ! 

Year after year beheld the silent toil 

That spread his lustrous coil ; 

Still, as the spiral grew, 
He left the past year's dwelling for the new, 
Stole with soft step its shining archway through, 

Built up its idle door, 
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more. 



THE "SAILIXG" OF THE NAUTILUS. 97 

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee, 

Child of the wandering sea, 

Cast from her lap forlorn ! 
From the dead lips a clearer note is born 
Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn ! 

While on mine ear it rings, 
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings : — ■ 

' Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul, 

As the swift seasons roll ! 

Leave thy low vaulted past ; 
Let each new temple, nobler than the last. 
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast. 

Till thou at length art free, 
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea.'" 



II 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



BARNACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. 

The belief that some wild geese, instead of being hatched 
from eggs, like other birds, grew on trees and rotten 
wood has never been surpassed as a specimen of ignorant 
credulity and persistent error. 

There are two principal versions of this absurd notion. 
One is that certain trees, resembling willows, and growing 
always close to the sea, produced at the ends of their 
branches fruit in form like apples, and each containing 
the embryo of a goose, which, when the fruit was ripe, fell 
into the water and flew away. The other is that the geese 
were bred from a fungus growing on rotten timber floating 
at sea, and were first developed in the form of worms in 
the substance of the wood. 

When and whence this improbable theory had its origin 
is uncertain. Aristotle does not mention it, and con- 
sequently Pliny and -^lian were deprived of the pleasure 
they would have felt in handing down to posterity, without 
investigation or correction, a statement so surprising. It is, 
comparatively, a modern myth ; although we find that 
it was firmly established in the middle of the twelfth 
century, for Gerald de Barri, known in literature as 
Giraldus Cambrensis, mentions it in his ' Topographia 
Hibernise,' published in 1 187. Giraldus, who was Archdeacon 
of Brecknock in the reign of Henry II., and tried hard, more 
than once, for the bishopric of St. David's, the functions of 
which he had temporarily administered without obtaining 



BARNACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. 99 

the title, was a vigorous and zealous reformer of Church 
abuses. Amongst the laxities of discipline against which 
he found it necessary to protest was the custom then 
prevailing of eating these Barnacle geese during Lent, 
under the plea that their flesh was not that of birds, but of 
fishes. He writes : — 

" There arc hero many birds which are called Bcrnaca;, which 
nature produces in a manner contrary to nature, and very wonderful. 
They are like marsh-geese but smaller. They arc produced from fir- 
timber tossed about at sea, and are at first like geese upon it. After- 
wards they hang down by their beaks, as if from a sea-weed attached 
to the wood, and are enclosed in shells that they may grow the more 
freely. Having thus, in course of time, been clothed with a strong 
covering of feathers, they either fall into the water, or seek their liberty 
in the air by flight. The embryo geese derive their growth and nutri- 
ment from the moisture of the wood or of the sea, in a secret and most 
marvellous manner. I have seen with my own eyes more than a 
thousand minute bodies of these birds hanging from one piece of 
timber on the shore, enclosed in shells and already formed. Their 
eggs are not impregnated in coitu, like those of other birds, nor does 
the bird sit upon its eggs to hatch them, and in no corner of the world 
have they been known to build a nest. Hence the bishops and clergy 
in some parts of Ireland are in the habit of partaking of these birds on 
fast days, without scruple. But in doing so they are led into sin. 
For, if any one were to eat of the leg of our first parent, although he 
(Adam) was not born of flesh, that person could not be adjudged 
innocent of eating flesh." 

This fable of the geese appears, however, to have been 
current at least a hundred years before Giraldus wrote, for 
Professor Max M tiller, who treats of it in one of his 
" Lectures on the Science of Language," amongst many 
interesting references there given, quotes a Cardinal of the 
eleventh century, Petrus Damianus, who clearly describes, 
that version of it which represents the birds as bursting, 
when fully fledged, from fruit resembling apples. 

It is a curious fact that these Barnacle geese have 

II 2 



loo SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

troubled the priesthood of more than one creed as to the 
instructions they should give to the laity concerning the use 
of them as food. The Jews — all those, at least, who 
maintain a strict observance of the Hebrew Law — eat no 
meat but that of animals which have been slaughtered in a 
certain prescribed manner ; and a doubt arose amongst 
them at the period we refer to, whether these geese should 
be killed as flesh or as fish. Professor Max Miiller cites 
Mordechai,* as asking whether these birds are fruits, fish, 
or flesh ; that is, whether they must be killed in the Jewish 
way, as if they were flesh. Mordechai describes them as 
birds which grow on trees, and says, "the Rabbi Jehuda, of 
Worms (who died 12 16) used to say that he had heard from 
his father. Rabbi Samuel, of Speyer (about 1 1 50), that 
Rabbi Jacob Tham, of Ramerii (who died 1171), the grand- 
son of the great Rabbi Rashi (about 1 140), had decided that 
they must be killed as flesh." 

Pope Innocent III. took the same view; for at the 
Lateran Council, in 12 15, he prohibited the eating of 
Barnacle geese during Lent. In 1277, Rabbi Izaak, of 
Corbeil, determined to be on the safe side, forbade altogether 
the eating of these birds by the Jews, " because they were 
neither flesh nor fish." 

Michael Bernhard Valentine,t quoting Wormius, says 
that this question caused much perplexity and disputation 
amongst the doctors of the Sorbonne ; but that they passed 
an ordinance that these geese should be classed as fishes, 
and not as birds ; and he adds, that in consequence of this 
decision large numbers of these birds were annually sent to 
Paris from England and Scotland, for consumption in 



* Riva, 1559, leaf 142*, 

f ' Historia Simplicium,' lib. iii. p. 327. 



BARXACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. lot 

Lent. Sir Robert Sibbald * refers to this, and says that 
Normandy was the locality from which the French capital 
was reported to be principally supplied ; but that in fact 
the greater number of these geese came from Holland. 
The date of this edict is not given. 

Professor Max Miiller says that in Brittany, Barnacle 
geese are still allowed to be eaten on Fridays, and that the 
Roman Catholic Bishop of Ferns may give permission to 
people out of his diocese to eat these birds at his table. 

In Bombay, also, where fish is prohibited as food to some 
classes of the population, the priests call this goose a " sea- 
vegetable," under which name it is allowed to be eaten. 

Various localities were mentioned as the breeding-places of 
these arboreal geese. Gervasius of Tilbury,t writing about 
I2II, describes the process of their generation in full detail, 
and says that great numbers of them grew in his time 
upon the young willow trees which abounded in the 
neighbourhood of the Abbey of Faversham, in the county 
of Kent, and within the Archiepiscopate of Canterbury. 
The bird was there commonly called the Barneta. 

Hector Boethius, or Boece, the old Scottish historian, 
combats this version of the story. His work, written in 
Latin, in 1527, was translated into quaint Scottish in 1540, 
by John Bellenden, Archdeacon of Murray. In his four- 
teenth chapter, " Of the nature of claik geis, and of the 
syndry maner of thair procreatioun. And of the ile of 
Thule," he says : — 

" Restis now to speik of the geis gencrit of the see namit clakis. 
Sum men bclevis that thir clakis growis on treis be the nebbis. Bot 
thair opinioun is vane. And becaus the nature and procreatioun of 
thir clakis is strange we have maid na lytyll laubore and dchgence to 



* Prodrom. Hist. Nat. Scot, parts 2, hb. iii. p. 21, 1684. 
t Otia Impcrialia, iii. 123. 



I02 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

serche ye treuth and verite yairof, we have salit throw ye seis quhare 
thir clakis ar bred, and I fynd be gret experience, that the nature of 
the seis is mair relevant cans of thir procreatioun than ony uther 
thyng." 

From the circumstances attending the finding of " ane 
gret tree that was brocht be alluvion and flux of the see to 
land, in secht of money pepyll besyde the castell of Petslego, 
in the yeir of God ane thousand iiii. hundred Ixxxx, and of 
a see tangle hyngand full of mussill schellis," brought to 
him by " Maister Alexander Galloway, person of Kynkell," 
who knowing him to be " richt desirus of sic uncouth 
thingis came haistely with the said tangle," he arrives at 
the conclusion, by a process of reasoning highly satisfactory 
and convincing to himself, that, 

" Be thir and mony othir resorcis and examphs we can not beleif 
that thir clakis ar producit be ony nature of treis or rutis thairof, but 
allanerly be the nature of the Oceane see, quhilk is the caus and pro- 
duction of mony wonderful thingis. And becaus the rude and ignorant 
pepyl saw oftymes the fruitis that fel of the treis (quhilkis stude neir 
the see) convertit within schort tyme in geis, thai belevit that thir geis 
grew apon the treis hingand be thair nebbis sic lik as appillis and 
uthir frutis hingis be thair stalkis, bot thair opinioun is nocht to be 
sustenit. For als sone as thir appillis or frutis fallis of the tre in the 
see flude thay grow first wormeetin. And be schort process of tyme 
are alterat in geis." 

In describing the bird thus produced, Boethius declares 
that the male has a sharp, pointed beak, like the gallin- 
aceous birds, but that in the female the beak is obtuse as 
in other geese and ducks. 

According to other authors, this wonderful production of 
birds from living or dead timber was not confined to 
England and Scotland. Vincentius Bellovacensis * (1190- 

* For this quotation and the following one I am indebted to 
Professor Max Miiller's Lecture before referred to. 



BARNACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. 103 

1264) in his 'Speculum Naturae,' xvii. 40, states that it 
took place in Germany, and Jacob de Vitriaco (who 
died 1244) mentions its occurrence in certain parts of 
Flanders. 

Jonas Ramus gives a somewhat different version of the 
process as it occurs in Norway. He writes : * "It is said 
that a particular sort of geese is found in Nordland, which 
leave their seed on old trees, and stumps and blocks lying 
in the sea ; and that from that seed there grows a shell fast 
to the trees, from which shell, as from an <i<gg, by the heat 
of the sun, young geese are hatched, and afterwards grow 
up ; which gave rise to the fable that geese grow upon 
trees." 

But, strange to say, if any painstaking enquirer, wishing 
to investigate the matter for himself, went to a locality 
where it was said the phenomenon regularly occurred, he 
was sure to find that he had literally, " started on a wild- 
goose chase," and had come to the wrong place. This was 
the experience of yEneas Sylvius Piccolomini, afterwards 
Pope Pius II., who complained that miracles \\ill always 
flee farther and farther away ; for when he was on a visit 
(about 1430) to King James L, of Scotland,! and enquired 
after the tree which he most eagerly desired to see, he 
was told that it grew much farther north, in the Orkney 
Islands. 

Notwithstanding the suspicious fact that the prodigy 
receded like Will o' the Wisp, whenever it was persistently 
followed up, Sebastian Munster, who relates % the foregoing 

* ' Chorographical Description of Norway,' p. 244. 

t ^neas Sylvius giveg us information concerning the personal 
appearance of his royal host, whom he describes as, " homi)ietn quad- 
ratum et tnulta pingueditie gravem" — literally, " a square-built man, 
heavy with much fat." 

X ' Cosmographia Universalis,' p. 49, 1572. 



I04 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



anecdote of ^Eneas Sylvius, appears to have entertained no 
doubt of the truth of the report, for he writes :— 




FIG. 34. — THE GOOSE TREE. Copied froui Gerard s '■ Herb all,' \st edition.* 
" In Scotland there are trees which produce fruit, conglomerated of 

* The original of this picture is a small wood-cut in Matthias de 
Lobel's ' Stirpium Historia,' pubUshed in 1870. The birds within the 
shells were added by Gerard. Aldrovandus, in copying it, gave leaves 
to the tree, as shown on page no. 



BARNACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. 105 

their leaves ; and this fruit, when in due time it falls into the water 
beneath it, is endowed with new hfe, and is converted into a Uving 
bird, which they call the 'tree-goose.' This tree grows in the Island 
of Pomonia, which is not far from Scotland, towards the north. 
Several old cosmographers, especially Saxo Grammaticus, mention 
the tree, and it must not be regarded as fictitious, as some new writers 
suppose." 

Julius Caesar Scaliger* (1540) gives another reading of 
the legend, in which it is asserted that the leaves which 
fall from the tree into the water are converted into fishes, 
and those which fall upon the land become birds. 

Thus this extraordinary belief held sway, and remained 
strong and invincible, although from time to time some 
man of sense and independent thought attempted to turn 
the tide of popular error. Albertus Magnus (who died 1280) 
showed its absurdity, and declared that he had seen the 
bird referred to lay its eggs and hatch them in the ordinary 
way. Roger Bacon (who died in 1294) also contradicted it, 
and Belon, in 155 1, treated it with ridicule and contempt. 
Olaus Wormius f seems to have believed in it, though he 
wrote cautiously about it. Olaus Magnus (1553) mentions 
it, and apparently accepts it as a fact, occurring in the 
Orkneys, on the authority of "a Scotch historian who 
diligently sets down the secrets of things," and then dismisses 
it in three lines. 

Passing over many other writers on the subject, we come 
to the time of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when (in 1597) 
"John Gerarde, Master in Chirurgerie, London," published 
his " Herball, or Generall Historic of Plants gathered by 
him," and in the last chapter thereof solemnly declared, 
that he had actually witnessed the transformation of 
" certaine shell fish " into Barnacle Geese, as follows. 

* Exercit. 59, sect. 2. t ' Museum,' p. 257. 



io6 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



Of the Goose tree, Barnacle tree, or the tree 
hearing Geese. 

BritaniccE Concha: anatifcrce. 
THE BREED OF BARNACLES. 



IF TJie Description. 

Hauing trauelled from the Grasses growing in the bottome of the 
fenny waters, the Woods, and mountaines, euen vnto Libanus itselfe ; 
and also the sea, and bowels of the same, wee are arriued at the end 
of our History ; thinking it not impertinent to the conclusion of the 
same, to end with one of the maruels of this land (we may say of the 
World). The history whereof to set forth according to the worthinesse 
and raritie thereof, would not only require a large and peculiar volume, 
but also a deeper search into the bowels of Nature, then my intended 
purpose will suffer me to wade into, my sufficiencie also considered ; 
leauing the History thereof rough hewen, vnto some excellent man, 
learned in the secrets of nature, to be both fined and refined ; in the 
meane space take it as it falleth out, the naked and bare truth, though 
vnpolished. There are found in the North parts of Scotland and the 
Islands adiacent, called Orchades, certaine trees whereon do grow 
certaine shells of a white colour tending to russet, wherein are contained 
little lining creatures : which shells in time of maturity doe open, and 
out of them grow those little lining things, which falling into the water 
do become fowles, which we call Barnacles ; in the North of England, 
brant Geese ; and in Lancashire, tree Geese : but the other that do 
fall vpon the land perish and come to nothing. Thus much by the 
writings of others, and also from the mouthes of people of those parts, 
which may very well accord with truth. 

But what our eies haue scene, and hands haue touched wc shall 
declare. There is a small Island in Lancashire, called the Pile of 
Foulders, wherein are found the broken pieces of old and bruised ships 
some whereof haue beene cast thither by shipwracke, and iilso the 
trunks and bodies with the branches of old and rotten trees, cast vp 
there likewise ; whereon is found a certaine spume or froth that in 
time breedeth vnto certaine shells, in shape like those of the Muskle, 



BARNACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. 107 

but sharper pointed, and of a whitish colour ; wherein is contained a 
thing in forme like a lace of silkc finely wouen as it were together, of a 
whitish colour, one end whereof is fastened vnto the inside of the shell, 
eucn as the fish of Oistcrs and Huskies are : the other end is made 
fast vnto the belly of a rude masse or lumpe, which in time commeth to 
the shape and forme of a Bird : when it is perfectly formed the shell 
gapeth open, and the first thing that appeareth is the foresaid lace or 
string ; next come the legs of the bird hanging out, and as it groweth 
greater it openeth the shell by degrees, til at length it is all come 
forth, and hangeth onely by the bill : in short space after it commeth 
to full maturitie, and falleth into the sea, where it gathereth feathers, 
and groweth to a fowle bigger than a Mallard, and lesser than a 
Goose, hauing blacke legs and bill or beake, and feathers blacke and 
white, spotted in such manner as is our Magpie, called in some places 
a Pie-Annet, which the people of Lancashire call by no other name 
than a tree Goose : which place aforesaid, and all those parts adjoyn- 
ing do so much abound therewith, that one of the best is bought for 
three pence. For the truth hereof, if any doubt, may it please them to 
repaire vnto me, and I shall satisfie them by the testimonie of good 
witnesses. 

Moreover, it should seeme that there is another sort hereof; the 
History of which is true, and of mine owne knowledge; for trauelling 
vpon the shore of our English coast betweene Douer and Rumney, I 
found the trunke of an old rotten tree, which (with some helpe that I 
procured by Fishermen's wiues that were there attending their 
husbands' returne from the sea) we drew out of the water vpon dry 
land ; vpon this rotten tree I found growing many thousands of long 
crimson bladders, in shape like vnto puddings newly filled, before they 
be sodden, which were very cleere and shining ; at the nether end 
whereof did grow a shell fish, fashioned somewhat like a small Muskle, 
but much whiter, resembling a shell fish that groweth vpon the rockes 
about Garnsey and Garsey, called a Lympit : many of these shells I 
brought with me to London, which after I had opened I found in them 
lining things without forme or shape ; in others which were neerer 
come to ripenesse I found lining things that were very naked, in shape 
like a Bird : in others, the Birds couered with soft downe, the shell 
halfe open, and the Bird ready to fall out, which no doubt were the 
Fowles called Barnacles. I dare not absolutely auouch euery circum- 
stance of the first part of this history, concerning the tree that beareth 
those buds aforesaid, but will leaue it to a further consideration ; how- 
beit, that which I haue scene with mine eies, and handled with mine 



io8 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

hands, I dare confidently auouch, and boldly put downe for verity. 
Now if any will object that this tree which I saw might be one of those 
before mentioned, which either by the waues of the sea or some violent 
wind had beene ouerturned as many other trees are ; or that any trees 
falling into those seas about the Orchades, will of themselves bear 
the like Fowles, by reason of those seas and waters, these being so 
probable conjectures, and likely to be ti'ue, I may not without prejudice 
gainsay, or endeauour to confute. 

IF The Place. 

The bordes and rotten plankes whereon are found these shels breed- 
ing the Barnakle, are taken vp in a small Island adioyning to Lanca- 
shire, halfe a mile from the main land, called the Pile of Foulders. 

IF The Time. 

They spawn as it were in March and Aprill ; the Geese are formed 
in May and June, and come to fulnesse of feathers in the moneth 
after. 

And thus hauing through God's assistance discoursed somewhat at 
large of Grasses, Herbes, Shrubs, Trees, and Mosses, and certaine 
Excrescenses of the Earth, with other things moe, incident to the 
historic thereof, we conclude and end our present Volume, with this 
wonder of England. For the which God's name be euer honored and 
praised. 

Gerard was probably a good botanist and herbalist ; but 
Thomas Johnson, the editor of a subsequent issue of his 
book, tells us that 

" He, out of a propcnse good will to the publique advancement of 
this knowledge, endeavoured to performe therein more than he could 
well accomplish, which was partly through want of sufficient learning ; 
but," he adds, " let none blame him for these defects, seeing he was 
neither wanting in pains nor good will to performe what hee intended : 
and there are none so simple but know that heavie burthens are with 
most paines vndergone by the weakest men ; and although there are 
many faults in the worke, yet iudge well of the Author ; for, as a late 
writer well saith : — ' To err and to be deceived is human, and he must 
seek solitude who wishes to live only with the perfect.' " 



BARNACLE GEESE—GOOSE BARNACLES. 109 

It is difficult to comply with the request to think well of 
one who, writing as an authority, deliberately promulgated, 
with an affectation of piety, that which he must have known 
to be untrue, and who was, moreover, a shameless plagiarist ; 
for Gerard's ponderous book is little more than a transla- 
tion of Dodonoeus, whole chapters having been taken 
verbatim from that comparatively unread author without 
acknowledgment. 

After this series of erroneous observations, self-delusion, 
and ignorant credulity, it is refreshing to turn to the pages 
of the two little thick quarto volumes of Caspar Schott.* 
This learned Jesuit made himself acquainted with every- 
thing that had been written on the subject, and besides the 
authors I have referred to, quotes and compares the state- 
ments of Majolus, Abrahamus Ortelius, Hieronymus Car- 
danus, Eusebius, Nierembergius, Deusingius, Odoricus, 
Gerhardus de Vera, Ferdinand of Cordova, and many 
others. He then gives, firmly and clearly, his own opinion 
that the assertion that birds in Britain spring from the 
fruit or leaves of trees, or from wood, or from fungus, or 
from shells, is without foundation, and that neither reason, 
experience, nor authority tend to confirm it. He concedes 
that worms may be bred in rotting timber, and even 
that they may be of a kind that fly away on arriving at 
maturity (referring probably to caterpillars being developed 
into moths), but that birds should be thus generated, he 
says, is simply the repetition of a vulgar error, for not one 
of the authors whom he has examined has seen what they 
all affirm ; nor are they able to bring forward a single 
eye-witness of it. He asks how it can be possible that 
animals so large and so highly-organised as these birds 

* ' Physica Curiosa, sivc Mirabilia Natura: et Artis,' 1662, lib. ix. 
cap. xxii. p. 960. 



no SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

can grow from puny animalcules generated in putrid 
wood. He further declares that these British geese are 
hatched from eggs like other geese, which he considers 
proved by the testimony of Albertus Magnus, Gerhardus 
de Vera, and of Dutch seamen, who, in 1569, gave their 
written declaration that they had personally seen these 
birds sitting on their eggs, and hatching them, on the 
coasts of Nova Zembla. 




FIO. 35. — THE BARNACLE GOOSE TREE. After AldfOVandllS. 



In marked and disgraceful contrast with this careful 
and philosophical investigation and its author's just deduc- 
tions from it, is *A Relation concerning Barnacles by 
Sir Robert Moray, lately one of His Majesty's Council for 
the Kingdom of Scotland,' read before the Royal Society, 
and published in the ' Philosophical Transactions,' No. 137, 
January and February, 16^]-^. 



BARNACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. iii 

Describing "a cut of a large Firr-tree of about two and 
a half feet diameter, and nine or ten feet long," which he 
saw on the shore in the Western Islands of Scotland, and 
which had become so dry that many of the Barnacle shells 
with which it had been covered had been rubbed off, he 
says : — - 

" Only on the parts that lay next the ground there still hung 
multitudes of little Shells, having within them little Birds, perfectly 




FIG. 36. — DEVELOPMENT OF BARNACLES INTO GEESE. After Aldrovandus. 

shap'd, supposed to be Barnacles. The Shells hung very thick and 
close one by another, and were of different sizes. Of the colour and 
consistence of Muscle-Shells, and the sides and joynts of them joyned 
with such a kind of film as Muscle-Shells are, which serves them for a 
Hing to move upon, when they open and shut. . . . The Shells hang at 
the Tree by a Neck longer than the Shell, of a kind of Filmy 
substance, round, and hollow, and creased, not unlike the Wind-pipe 
of a chicken, spreading out broadest where it is fastened to the Tree, 
from which it seems to draw and convey the matter which serves for 



112 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

the growth and vegetation of the Shell and the little Bird within it. 
This Bird in every Shell that I opened, as well the least as the biggest, 
I found so curiously and compleatly formed, that there appeared 
nothing wanting as to internal parts, for making up a perfect Sea- 
fowl : every little part appearing so distinctly that the whole looked 
like a large Bird seen through a concave or diminishing glass, colour 
and feature being everywhere so clear and neat. The little Bill, like 
that of a Goose ; the eyes marked ; the Head, Neck, Breast, Wings, 
Tail, and Feet formed, the Feathers everywhere perfectly shap'd, and 
blackish coloured ; and the Feet like those of other Water-fowl, to my 
best remembrance. All being dead and dry, I did not look after the 
internal parts of them. Nor did I ever see any of the little Birds alive, 
nor met with anybody that did. Only some credible persons have 
assured me they have seen some as big as their fist." 

It seems almost incredible that little more than two 
hundred years ago this twaddle should not only have been 
laid before the highest representatives of science in the 
land, but that it should have been printed in their " Trans- 
actions " for the further delusion of posterity. 

Ray, in his edition of Willughby's Ornithology, published 
in the same year as the above, contradicted the fallacy as 
strongly as Caspar Schott ; and (except that he inciden- 
tally admits the possibility of spontaneous generation in 
some of the lower animals, as insects and frogs) in language 
so similar that I think he must have had Schott's work 
before him when he wrote. 

Aldrovandus * tells us that an Irish priest, named 
Octavianus, assured him with an oath on the Gospels that 
he had seen and handled the geese in their embryo con- 
dition ; and he adds that he " would rather err with the 
majority than seem to pass censure on so many eminent 
writers who have believed the story." 

In 1629 Count Maier (Michaelus Meyerus — these old 
authors when writing in Latin, latinized their names also) 

* ' Ornithologia,' lib. xix. p. 173, ed. 1603. 



BARNACLE GEESE—GOOSE BARNACLES. 



113 



published a monograph ' On the Tree-bird ' * in which he 
explains the process of its birth, and states that he opened 
a hundred of the goose-bearing shells and found the rudi- 
ments of the bird fully formed. 

So slow Bootes underneath him sees, 
In th' icy isles, those goslings hatched on trees, 
Whose fruitful leaves, falling into the water, 
Are turned, they say, to living fowls soon after ; 
So rotten sides of broken ships do change, 
To barnacles, O, transformation strange ! 
'Twas first a green tree ; then a gallant hull ; 
Lately a mushroom ; then a flying guU.f 

Now, let us turn from fiction to facts. 
Almost every one is acquainted with at least one kind of 
the Barnacle shells which were supposed to enclose the 




FIG 37. — SECTION OF A SESSILE BARNACLE. Balamis tintiiinahiihim. 

embryo of a goose, namely the small white conical hillocks 
which are found, in tens of thousands, adhering to stones, 
rocks, and old timber such as the piles of piers, and may 
be seen affixed to the shells of oysters and mussels in any 
fishmonger's shop. The little animals which secrete and 

* ' De Volucri Arborea,' 1629. 

t Du Bartas' " Divine Week " p. 228. Joshua Sylvester's translation. 

I 



114 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

inhabit these shells belong to a sub-class and order of the 
Crustacea, called the Cirrhopoda, because their feet (poda), 
which in the crab and lobster terminate in claws, are 
modified into tufts of curled hairs {cirri), or feathers. When 
the animal is alive and active under water, a crater may be 
seen to open on the summit of the little shelly mountain, 
and, as if from the mouth of a miniature volcano, there issue 
from this aperture, from between two inner shells, the 
cirri in the form of a feathery hand, which clutches at the 
water within its reach, and is then quickly retracted within 
the shell. During this movement the hair-fringed fingers 
have filtered from the water and conveyed towards the 
mouth within the shell, for their owner's nutriment, some 
minute solid particles or animalcules, and this action of the 
casting-net alternately shot forth and retracted continues 
for hours incessantly, as the water flows over its resting- 
place. The animal can live for a long time out of water, 
and in some situations thus passes half its life. Under such 
circumstances, the shells, containing a reserve of moisture, 
remain firmly closed until the return of the tide brings a fresh 
supply of water and food. These are the " acorn-barnacles," 
the balani, commonly known in some localities as " chitters." 
Barnacles of another kind are those furnished with a long 
stem, or peduncle, which Sir Robert Moray described as 
" round, hollow, and creased, and not unlike the wind-pipe 
of a chicken." The stem has, in fact, the ringed formation 
of the annelids, or worms. The shelly valves are thin, flat, 
and in shape somewhat like a mitre. They are composed 
of five pieces, two on each side, and one, a kind of rounded 
keel along the back of the valves, by which these are united. 
The shells are delicately tinted with lavender or pale blue 
varied with white, and the edges are frequently of a bright 
chrome yellow or orange colour. 



BARNACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. 



115 



It is not an uncommon occurrence for a large plank 
entirely covered with these " necked barnacles " to be found 
floating at sea and brought ashore for exhibition at some 
watering-place ; and I have more than once sent portions 
of such planks to the Aquaria at Brighton, and the Crystal 
Palace. 

It is most interesting to watch a dense mass of living 
cirripedes so closely packed together that not a speck of 




FIG. -^Z. — I'EnuxcuLATED BARNACLES. {Lepas aiiatifera.) 

the surface of the wood is left uncovered by them ; their 
fleshy stalks overhanging each other, and often attached 
in clusters to those of some larger individuals ; their 
plumose casting-nets ever gathering in the food that 
comes within their reach, and carrying towards the mouth 
any solid particles suitable for their sustenance. How 
much of insoluble matter barnacles will eliminate from 
the water is shown by the rapidity with which they 
will render turbid sea water clear and transparent. The 

I 2 



ii6 



SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 



most common species of these " necked barnacles " bears 
the name of '' Lepas anatifera',' "the duck -bearing LepasT 
It was so entitled by Linnaeus, in recognition of its having 
been connected with the fable, which, of course, met with 
no credit from him. 

Fig. 39 represents the figure-head of a ship, partly 
covered with barnacles, which was picked up about thirty 
miles off Lowestoft on the 22nd of October, 1857, It was 
described in the Illustrated London News, and the pro- 




FIG. 39. — A SHir'S FIGURE-HEAD WITH BARNACLES ATTACHED TO IT. 



prietors of that paper have kindly given me a copy of 
the block from which its portrait was printed. 

Others of the barnacles affix themselves to the bottoms 
of ships, or parasitically upon whales and sharks, and 
those of the latter kind often burrow deeply into the skin of 
their host. Fig. 40 is a portrait of a Coromila diadema taken 
from the nose of a whale stranded at Kintradwell, in the 
north of Scotland, in 1866, and sent to the late Mr. Frank 
Buckland. Growing on this Coronula are three of the 
curious eared barnacles, Conchoderma aurita, the Lepas 



BARNACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. 



117 



aurita of Linnaeus. The species of the whale from which 
these Barnacles were taken was not mentioned, but it was 
probably the " hunch-backed " whale, Megaptera longimana. 




FIG, 40. — WHALE BARNACLE (Corouiila diadcma), WITH THREE 
Co7ichoderma aiiHta attached to it. 

which is generally infested with this Coroniila. This very 
illustrative specimen was, and I hope still is, in Mr. Buck- 
land's Museum at South Kensington. It was described by 
him in Land and Water, of May 19th, 1866, and I am 



n8 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

indebted to the proprietors of that paper for the accom- 
panying portrait of it. 

The young Barnacle when just extruded from the shell of 
its parent is a very different being from that which it will 
be in its mature condition. It begins its life in a form 
exactly like that of an entomostracous crustacean, and, 
like a Cyclops, has one large eye in the middle of its fore- 
head. In this state it swims freely, and with great activity. 
It undergoes three moults, each time altering its figure, 
until at the third exuviation it has become enclosed in a 




FIG. 41. — A YOUNG BARNACLE. {Larva of C/ithaniahcs stellaius.) 

bivalve shell, and has acquired a second eye. It is now 
ready to attach itself to its abiding-place ; so, selecting its 
future residence, it presses itself against the wood, or what- 
ever the substance may be, pours out from its two antennae 
a glutinous cement, which hardens in water, and thus fastens 
itself by the front of its head, is henceforth a fixture for 
life, and assumes the adult form in which most persons 
know it best* 

* If any of my readers wish to observe the development of young 
barnacles they may easily do so. The method I have generally 
adopted has been as follows : Procure a shallow glass or earthenware 
milk-pan that will hold at least a gallon. Fill this to within an inch 



BARNACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. 119 

It is unnecessary for me to describe more minutely the 
anatomy of the Cirripedes ; I have said enough to show 



of the top with sea-water, and place it in any shaded part of a room — 
not in front of a window. Put in the pan six or eight pebbles or clean 
shells of equal height, say i d or 2 inches, and on them lay a clean 
sheet of glass, which, by resting on the pebbles, is brought to within 
about 25 inches of the surface of the water. Select some limpets or 
mussels having acorn-barnacles on them ; carefully cut out the limpet 
or mussel, and clean nicely the interior of the shell ; then place a 
dozen or more of these shells on the sheet of glass, and the barnacles 
upon them will be within convenient reach of any observation with 
a magnifying glass. If this be done in the month of March, the ex- 
perimenter will not have to wait long before he sees young Balani 
ejected from the summits of some of the shells. Up to the moment of 
their birth each of them is inclosed in a little cocoon or case, in shape 
like a canary-seed, and most of them are tossed into the world whilst 
still enclosed in this. In a few seconds this casing is ruptured longi- 
tudinally, apparently by the struggles of its inmate, which escapes at 
one end, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, and swims freely 
to the surface of the water, leaving the split cocoon or case at the 
bottom of the pan. Some few of the young barnacles seem to be 
freed from the cocoon before, or at the moment of, extrusion. From 
three to a dozen or more of these escape with each protrusion of the 
cirri of the parent, and as the parturient barnacle will put forth its 
feathery casting net at least twenty times in a minute for an hour or 
more, it follows that as many as ten thousand young ones may be pro- 
duced in an hour. These, as they are cast forth at each pulsation of 
the parent's cirri, fall upon the clean sheet of glass, and may be taken 
up in a pipette, and placed under a microscope, or removed to a 
smaller vessel of sea-water, for minute and separate investigation. It 
seems strange that animals which, like the oyster and the barnacles, 
are condemned in their mature condition to lead so sedentary a life, 
should in the earlier stages of their existence swim freely and Aerrily 
through the water — young fellows seeking a home, and when they 
have found it, although their connubial life must be a very tame one, 
setthng down, and not caring to rove about any more for the remainder 
of their days. These young Balani dart about like so many water- 
fleas, and yet, after a few days of freedom, they become fixed and im- 
movable, the inhabitants of the pyramidal shells which grow in such 
abundance on other shells, stones, and old wood. 



I20 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

the nature of the plumose appurtenances which, hanging 
from the dead shells, were supposed to be the feathers of a 
little bird within ; but it is difficult to understand how any 
one could have seen in the natural occupant of the shell, 
" the little bill, like that of a goose, the eyes, head, neck, 
breast, wings, tail, and feet, like those of other water-fowl," 
so precisely and categorically detailed by Sir Robert 
Moray. As Pontoppidan, who denounced the whole story, 
as being "without the least foundation," very truly says, 
" One must take the force of imagination to help to make 
it look so ! " 

As to the origin of the myth, I venture to differ entirely 
from philologists who attribute it to " language," and " a 
similarity of names," for, although, as Professor Max 
Miiller observes in one of his lectures, "words without 
definite meanings are at the bottom of nearly all our 
philosophical and religious controversies," it certainly is not 
applicable in this instance. Every quotation here given 
shows that the mistake arose from the supposed resem- 
blance of the plumes of the cirrhopod, and the feathers of 
a bird, and the fallacious deductions derived therefrom. 
The statements of Maier (p 112), Gerard (p. 106), Sir Robert 
Moray (p. 1 10), &c., prove that this fanciful misconception 
sprang from erroneous observation. The love of the marvel- 
lous inherent in mankind, and especially prevalent in times 
of ignorance and superstition, favoured its reception and 
adoption, and I believe that it would have been as widely 
circulated, and have met with equal credence, if the names 
of the cirripede and of the goose that was supposed to be 
its offspring had been far more dissimilar than, at first, they 
really were. 

Setting aside several ingenious and far-fetched deriva- 
tions that have been proposed, I think we may safely 



BARNACLE GEESE— GOOSE BARNACLES. 121 

regard the word "barnacle," as applied to the cu-rhopod, 
as a corruption of pernaatla, the diminutive of perna, a 
bivalve mollusk, so-called from the similarity in shape of 
its shell to that of a ham — pernactila being changed to 
bernaaila. In some old Glossaries perna is actually spelt 
henia. 

To arrive at the origin of the word "barnacle," or 
"bernicle," as applied to the goose, we must understand 
that this bird, Anser leiicopsis, was formerly called the 
" brent," " brant," or " bran " goose, and was supposed to 
be identical with the species, Anser torqnatns, which is now 
known by that name. The Scottish word for " goose " is 
*' clake," or " clakis," * and I think that the suggestion 
made long ago to Gesner f (1558), by his correspondent, 
Joannes Caius, is correct, that the word " barnacle " comes 
from " branclakis," or "barnclake," "the dark-coloured 
goose." 

Professor Max Miiller is of the opinion that its Latin 
name may have been derived from Hibernicce, HiberniciilcB, 
Bernicnlce, as it was against the Irish bishops that Geraldus 
wrote, but I must say that this does not commend itself to 
me ; for the name Bernicula was not used in the early times 
to denote these birds. Giraldus himself described them as 
BernaccB, but they were variously known, also, as Barliates, 
Bernestas, Barnetas, Barbates, etc. 

I agree with Dr. John Hill,t that " the whole matter that 
gave origin to the story is that the ' shell-fish ' (cirripedes), 
supposed to have this wonderful production usually adhere 
to old wood, and that they have a kind of fibres hanging 
out of them, which, in some degree, resemble feathers of 

* See the quotation from Hector Boetius, p. loi. 
t ' Historia Animalium,' lib. iii. p. no. 
t ' History of Animals,' p. 422. 1752. 

K 



122 SEA FABLES EXPLAINED. 

some bird. From this slight origin arose the story that 
they contained real birds : what grew on trees people soon 
asserted to be the fruit of trees, and, from step to step, the 
story gained credit with the hearers," till, at length, Gerard 
had the audacity to say that he had witnessed the trans- 
formation. 

The Barnacle Goose is only a winter visitor of Great 
Britain. It breeds in the far north, in Greenland, Iceland, 
Spitzbergen, and Nova Zembla, and probably, also, along 
the shores of the White Sea. There are generally some 
specimens of this prettily-marked goose in the gardens of 
the Zoological Society in the Regent's Park, London ; and 
they thrive there, and become very tame. In the months 
of December and January these geese may often be seen 
hanging for sale in poulterers' shops ; and he who has tasted 
one well cooked may be pardoned if the suspicion cross 
his mind that the " monks of old," and " the bare-footed 
friars," as well as the laity, may not have been unwilling to 
sustain the fiction in order that they might conserve the 
privilege of having on their tables during the long fast of 
Lent so agreeable and succulent a " vegetable " or " fish " 
as a Barnacle Goose. 



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